As music has proven its healing power both mentally and physically, not only has it been recommended as a relaxation technique but therapists also have strongly suggested to apply music as a treatment. In fact, music therapy has been used widely in treatment process for patients. Mental and emotional health benefits of music therapy also reflect on elders who suffer from dementia or Alzheimer’s as it contribute greatly to memory collection and sense of self.
What is Music Therapy?
First, let we introduce briefly what music therapy is. Music therapy uses music and sound to enhance cognitive functioning in brain. The therapy encourage patients to express their emotion and feeling, promote good memory, rewind good things in the past as well as enhance self-esteem and social connection. The most popular method of music therapy is letting patients listening to music. During the process, patients are also advised to involve in other activities such as singing, playing or learning instruments.
Dementia in Aging People
Dementia, also known as senility, is a general category of brain diseases causing gradually mental cognitive functions such as memory and reasoning. The main cause is damaging brain cells in certain brain areas that responsible for particular tasks. The dementia patients will suffer from emotional and communication problems in daily routine and the incidence increases due to aging. Unfortunately, there is still no cure for dementia and the treatment only helps to maintain the current situation or temporarily improve the symptoms. The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer’s in which losing memories is the earliest symptom of the disease. People having dementia, therefore, need a lot of medical support and long-term treatment.
How Music Therapy Works on Dementia Patients
Many studies have proven the effectiveness of music therapy as it gives body relaxation, stress relieve and emotion as well as memory strengthening. The effect is more visible on elders that music helps boosting awareness and concentration, improving memory and physical health. As the results, music therapy can be applied in treatment for various types of issues including dementia, stroke or mental problems. The therapy is advised for both individual and group treatment, each case varies with methods but the results are mostly favorable.
Because of the effectiveness of music therapy in psychology treatment, many therapists apply music in dementia cases where patients’ needs are mainly mind comforting, care and depression reducing. According to Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, elders with dementia and Alzheimer’s show positive progress in communication, emotion control and behavioral skills. Music therapy also provides opportunities for families and relatives to involve in the treatment, working together to make the patients’ condition better. For more details, below is specific information how music therapy works in dementia cases.
#1. Music and Emotion:
Since the main objective of music therapy is using music (songs or melodies) to encourage emotional expression, evoke feelings and sensations, patients with dementia will be greatly beneficial in the treatment process. The reason is that rhythm, beat and melody of music are closely related to unconscious emotions, therefore, awake the inner feelings. These unconditional responses contribute greatly to dementia patients in spite of their memory lost. Moreover, music also helps to calm nervousness and depression, produces relaxing atmosphere and enhances emotional stable. Therapists usually use familiar songs or melody to help elders express themselves, stimulate brain to recall memories. In overall, music therapy can:
- Recall lost memories
- Change the pattern of mood; enhance positive emotional states and thinking
- Encourage brain activities which can improve daily cognitive functions in daily life
- Encourage self-esteem and interests in some activities, music activities for example
- Non-pharmacological management of pain, eliminate side-effect risks and discomfort from using drug
- Provide opportunities to interact, socialize, share and create memories with others, eliminate isolation feelings
In addition, by applying music activities into the process, being exposed to new things can give dementia patients intellectual stimulation which is very good in slowing down the symptoms of the disease.
#2. Communication and Memory:
In most of dementia cases, patients show difficulties in communication and expressing themselves, therefore, elders have trouble in control and express their basic needs as well as process information from the surroundings or even understanding others. These problems then create isolation and complicated feeling for our seniors. That is the reason why elders who suffer from dementia are often depressed or emotional unstable. This makes it hard for providing medical treatment and daily supports.
For the communication problems, songs are used to promote communication, verbal functions and enable dialogue. Listening to music also helps elders to practice their cognitive skills and prevents from losing them. Learning process is also powerful method in maintaining communication and language skills of dementia patients.
To prevent further memory lost or recall memory, therapists stimulate seniors’ mood and thinking ability by playing certain songs that possibly related to some of their specific memories. There are strong connections between feelings and memories, thus, by arousing feeling by melody and lyrics, past memories can be recalled pieces to pieces. This is long process and requires a lot of patience and care, but music therapy can triggers deeper memories and provides long-lasting results than other approaches. Also, elders are advised to consider music therapy as soon as possible for dementia prevention.
#3. Enhance Physical Health:
Not only causing psychological issues, dementia elders also suffer from physical health troubles such as bad eyesight, dental and hearing problems, constipation or high blood pressure. Music therapy then can be a factor in helping seniors exercise. Uplifting songs encourage movement from body, relax tense muscles, slow down heart beat and lower blood pressure. Small dance with appropriate exercise can enhance strength and flexibility; prevent physical disabilities and other illnesses. It will be better if you can have a group of seniors practices together, not only for health benefits but also elevate everybody mood and feeling. However, exercises should be executive under professional physical training for safety and preventing any unexpected problems.
Some Tips for Caregivers:
As dementia seniors require a lot of medical supports, the role of caregiver is very important. Because of the effectiveness of music therapy in dementia treatment, caregivers are advised to bring music in seniors’ daily lives. A soft sweet slow music background during daily routines will help elders to be more relaxed and stable in mind. Caregivers also should encourage music related activities like game, playing instrument or learning to play new one. Songs in their time can be helpful in memory recall. Taking a little effort to find out elders’ music taste and their favorite songs will greatly contribute to reduce dementia symptoms.
“Never underestimate the healing powers of music”. Music can bring all the good memories, happiness, and joys that no medicines can capable of!