Can Music Help Someone Living with Dementia?
Music certainly is powerful—it can make us cry, dance, smile, and laugh. Music can help us make memories, and help us connect with one another. But is music so powerful that it can help someone with a neurodegenerative disorder like dementia? Keep reading to find out.
WHAT IS DEMENTIA?
Dementia is an umbrella term that refers to a number of medical conditions that affect the brain. It can manifest as a loss of memory, difficulty with language and communication, and decreased problem-solving abilities. For most types of dementia, there is no existing cure. However, there are a handful of therapies and lifestyle changes that can have a positive impact on the symptoms of dementia.
HOW DOES MUSIC AFFECT DEMENTIA?
Recent studies have shown that regularly listening to music may improve the cognitive function of someone with dementia—and there are a few reasons why.
First, music evokes emotion. How many times have you heard a sad song and felt a little blue? What about a happy, upbeat song? Have you noticed yourself tapping your foot and breaking into a smile? If you’re like most people, I bet you have! Interestingly, memories are also associated with emotions. So, listening to certain types of music can help you feel emotions, which then helps with the recall of memories. Neat, huh?
Second, listening to music is effortlessly engaging. Music doesn’t just make us feel happy, sad, angry, or blissful, it also motivates us to dance, sing, and nod our heads. While a person with dementia’s brain is engaged with musical activity, they might find it easier to complete other tasks afterwards. Think of it like warming up a muscle—once you’ve stretched and limbered up for the big race, running can become easier.
Lastly, musical abilities are slower to decay. Studies have shown that the ability to play and appreciate music remains long after other skills are lost. So, enjoying music can be an easier way to reach a person with advanced dementia.
HOW CAN I USE MUSIC TO HELP MY LOVED ONE?
If you’d like to try music therapy with your loved one, here are a few things to remember:
- It’s important to consider your loved one’s taste in music. If they’ve always liked jazz but hated hip-hop, choose jazz, and avoid hip-hop.
- Play music that suits the mood. For example, calming music before bed works well.
- Try to encourage interaction while listening to music. If your loved one is able, encourage them to dance and sing.
- Avoid overwhelming your loved one—limit distractions such as the TV, and set the volume at a suitable level.
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