Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are difficult conditions that make it hard for people to communicate and participate in many everyday activities. Very often, people who suffer from these illnesses have difficulty with words and verbal communication. Music therapy is often an effective way to reach such people, giving them a non-verbal way to communicate. Both listening to music and playing instruments provide Alzheimer’s and dementia patients with a rewarding and creative outlet. Let’s look at some of the benefits of music therapy for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients.
How Music Therapy Helps
Music is almost universally appreciated in one form or another. Recently, researchers and people who work with Alzheimer’s and dementia patients have discovered some unique benefits of music therapy.
- Music may help dementia patients recall memories. One study revealed that singing stimulates brain activity in dementia patients. When patients sang popular songs such as show tunes, they performed better on cognitive tests. This study suggests that it’s more helpful for patients to actually sing rather than only listening. Of course, there are also benefits to simply listening to music but it’s apparently not as effective for stimulating the brain and recovering memories.
- Music stimulates the emotions. Music stimulates distinct parts of the brain in a way that’s very different from language. Music therapy is a simple yet effective way to evoke positive emotions and help to reduce stress. Elderly patients enjoy hearing and singing songs and melodies they recognize from their youth.
- Helps foster communication. One of the most devastating aspects of dementia and Alzheimer’s is how they cut the sufferer off from the world. Dementia patients often have trouble understanding or forming sentences. Music provides a bridge that helps these patients connect with friends and family members. Patients who have memory problems often still remember the words to their favorite songs. Singing together is a way to bond when verbal communication is difficult.
- Reduces the need for medication. While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s or dementia, doctors often prescribe various drugs to manage symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and confusion. Music therapy has the potential to reduce the need for medications by helping patients to feel relaxed and centered. A study published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychology found that personalized music therapy reduces anxiety and the need for medication in nursing home patients with dementia.
Other Activities to Help Alzheimer’s and Dementia Patients
Aside from music therapy, there are many other actions that friends, family members, and caregivers can take to help patients suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s. These include:
- Artistic activities. Music is only one of the art forms that can be beneficial to dementia and Alzheimer’s patients. Painting, drawing, making crafts, and knitting are also good for helping them focus and express their creativity.
- Physical activity. Exercise that’s consistent with the abilities and overall condition of the patient is also important for improving patients’ quality of life. Walking, swimming, sports, dancing, or working in a garden are some possibilities.
- Evoke memories. People with short-term memory loss often have stronger memories of distant events. It’s helpful to listen to their stories, even if you’ve heard them before. Going through photo albums or watching old movies also helps to rekindle treasured memories.
- Cook or bake together. Baking bread or cookies or preparing a meal is another way for people suffering from these conditions to stay active and engage in enjoyable and creative activities. Be ready to help them with details and supervise to make sure they’re using implements and appliances safely.
- Puzzles and games. Activities such as puzzles and games can help to keep the mind engaged. It’s often best to stick to games that the person is familiar with. There’s also evidence that playing video games helps to stop memory loss.
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