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Does music help in Alzheimer’s Care and Dementia Care?

By Peter DiMaria

Home Helpers Senior Care Enfield Press Article

It is something that everybody who is going through caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s has known, in a way or another: music can be a fantastic tool for dealing with the mood changes caused by the disease. But is there scientific evidence to support it?

As Alzheimer’s destroys the brain starting from the outer cortex, many memories are erased. The symptoms of early Alzheimer’s are related to forgetting recent events such as where the person is going or activities that just took place. However, feelings, sensations, and emotions connected to the past last longer and that’s where music comes in.

A recent study published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry showed that the use of personalized music associated with memory therapy reduced the need for drug use by Alzheimer’s patients. The study showed that the use of music therapy improved the behavior and psychological symptoms of dementia among nursing home residents.

The researchers followed 12,905 patients from 98 nursing homes treated with music therapy for six months. They compared the results with 12,811 patients from other 98 nursing homes who did not receive the treatment in the same period.

Music Therapy in Alzheimer's Care: Less Drug Use

Among the patients treated with music, the percentage of those who were not taking antipsychotic or anxiety drugs increased from 17.6% to 20.1%. Among those without treatment, there was no significant change: around 15% did not use drugs, either before or after the six months study.

As many caregivers will recognize, it is common that Alzheimer’s patients will remember familiar tunes and even sing along, even when they are facing later stages of dementia. The right music at the right time will calm down an Alzheimer’s patient who is having behavioral changes. It may help the caregiver to communicate with them. Overall, music also can be used as a means of recreation.

Another study conducted in Finland studied magnetic resonance in the brain of people listening to music. They found that music stimulates not only the areas of the brain which process sounds but also influences other regions, through complex neuron connections. The study found that music stimulates even motor areas, showing a connection between sound and movement.

Glen Campbell, his music and Alzheimer's

When thinking of the transformative power of music on dementia patients, the story of Glen Campbell, recently deceased, comes to mind. After a multi-decade career crowned with numerous hits, Campbell was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2011. Still, he recorded one last album and decided to travel the country on a farewell tour, playing with friends and members of his family.

Glen Campbell, in 2015, when he won the Grammy for the Alzheimer's inspired song "I'm not gonna miss you"

The documentary I Will Be Me, released in 2014, registered Campbell’s farewell tour, with 151 shows over a two-and-a-half-year period. The film shows the singer and guitarist struggling with Alzheimer’s while jumping on the stage every night to still be the Rhinestone Cowboy. He wouldn’t be able to find where the bathroom was, anymore, but somehow the music was always there and kept him going.

Glen Campbell’s story demonstrates that listening and making music can stimulate the resurgence of old memories and even helps patients to keep up with some of their cognitive functions.

So, if you are struggling to find a Christmas gift for a loved one who suffers from Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia, what about music? Maybe a CD with oldies from their time or an online signature to a music service to allow their caregivers to customize playlists according to their taste. You will see that music will help both of you to cope with the effects of this terrible disease.

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