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Music As Medicine: Music Can Help Dementia Patients

When we think of Subway sandwiches or State Farm Insurance, we easily recall their annoying commercial jingles. There’s a reason these earworms get stuck in our head: Music helps us remember what we learn.

In dementia patients, music doesn’t just help with brand recognition; it also helps in face recognition and recalling memories. According to a 2010 study at Boston University, Alzheimer’s patients who underwent a series of memory tests remembered more lyrics when they were set to music rather than just spoken. 

Music training can improve auditory verbal memory and auditory attention. Although most people are visual learners, music practice can help us become better auditory learners. Then, down the road when we’re in a non-musical learning situation, we can retain information more easily.

Music memory lodges deep in our auditory cortex because of its strong emotional connection, and simply because our brain loves to hear it. Music recognition is one of the last things to go as memory declines.  A simple melody can become a powerful mnemonic device when trying to learn something such as when to take medication or eat lunch. Listening to music from their youth can trigger past memories and help restore some sense of identity in dementia patients. Adding rhythm to a patient’s life can also improve mood.

We associate certain feelings with certain songs, so the right tune can give us a boost or calm us down. Energetic beats make people feel more lively, while calming music soothes. Listening to music also releases endorphins, which reduce pain, stress and depression as well as offers a greater sense of control of the environment. 

Music puts us in the mood for movement. Cranking up the tunes can be a great way to get patients interested in exercise. Music motivates us to work harder, perform better and distracts us from what we’re doing.

As the universal language, music can encourage patients to interact socially. Talking about music and making music with others can offer emotional and physiological benefits for dementia patients. A study at Northwestern University found that lifelong musical training can offset cognitive decline in old age.

Adding music and musical performance to everyday therapy can improve overall quality of life in dementia patients. Out of ideas for tunes to play? Give these a spin:

  • Favorite Tunes: Listening to the music they enjoy can help patients feel happier. Bringing back classics from their youth can help them recall fond memories.

  • Holiday Music: What holidays does the patient recognize? Playing familiar holiday tunes can get them in the holiday spirit, and could spark some memories of holidays past.

  • Musicals: Following a narrative is a lot easier when it’s set to music.

  • TV Theme Songs: Listening to theme songs from favorite shows may help patients recall their favorite episodes or characters.

  • Hymns: If you know the patient’s religious background or, better yet, the specific church they attended, play them some familiar hymnals.

Dementia.org

Dementia is a decline of mental abilities such as thinking, reasoning, and memory. Dementia usually occurs in older age; it is rare under the age of 60. It is serious enough to diminish everday life.