In 1992, the Older Americans Act defined music therapy as “the use of musical or rhythmic interventions specifically selected by a music therapist to accomplish the restoration, maintenance, or improvement of social or emotional functioning, mental processing or physical health of an older individual.” Listening to music has been a proven method in helping seniors restore and maintain their health as well as fight depression. For seniors who are in the mid- to later stages of dementia, music has also been identified as a proven means to help recall memories and feelings from the past.
This innovative, alternative option for treating dementia can help reduce agitation, improve behavioral issues and provide a way for individuals to connect with their loved ones after verbal communication skills have declined.
Music and Dementia: The Sound of Memories
Music therapists have seen extraordinary results when working with residents with dementia. It’s not uncommon for long-lost memories to be recalled, or to suddenly remember names of family members once again. For those who have become nonverbal, music therapy can help them start speaking again and become more socially engaged in their surroundings.
Recent studies reveal music therapy for dementia has a variety of other benefits, too, including:
Evoking emotions. Listening to a favorite song from the past brings back the feelings from that specific time in one’s life. With these emotions, memories tend to follow. When music is paired with daily activities, some residents are able to develop a rhythm for further memory recollection which in time can improve cognitive ability, too.
Reaching the person. One study suggests that in those with dementia, musical appreciation and musical aptitude are two of the longest-lasting abilities even throughout the later stages of the disease. Key songs from a person’s past can help trigger associations with family members or ideas.
Strengthening physical and emotional ties. It can be difficult to continue to connect physically and emotionally with those in the later stages of dementia, but music provides a means for bringing people together. Caregivers and therapists can use music and singing as an alternative to touching. Or, the movement that comes naturally with music through toe-tapping or hand-clapping can lead to holding hands or hugging.
Reducing stress and agitation. Music is a known mood-booster and when residents with dementia are in the midst of stress-induced agitation, it can help improve their moods and encourage positive interactions. If Sundowner’s Syndrome is an issue, slower, melodic ballads and lullabies or “sedative music” help prepare individuals for bed. On the other hand, “stimulative music” with percussive sounds and quick tempos can naturally promote movement and energy.
Making Memories with Personalized Music Playlists
Last October, American Senior Communities’ own American Village became an active participant in an important study regarding music and dementia. Students from Butler University crafted personalized playlists for residents as a therapeutic tool. These playlists were designed with songs from the most influential period in a person’s life – their late teens and early 20s – to learn the true effects music can have on the individuals. This nine-month long study is designed with the hopes of revealing that music can be a more effective treatment than some prescriptions drugs for dementia.
American Senior Communities offers person-centered dementia care at our Auguste’s Cottage and a variety of assisted living memory care apartments throughout our locations. Contact us today to request more information.