Music and Dementia: Does Music Therapy Help Revere the Effects of Dementia in the Elderly?

Dementia is a progressive disorder which can lead to the loss of short term memory and a diminished ability to reason, communicate or process information. The frustration these symptoms bring the patient can result in bouts of depression and behavior problems. The burden of dealing with the breadth of these symptoms has led doctors and caregivers to seek out alternative therapies. One of the most popular involves the use of music for dementia.

Music has been seen as a source of healing more publicly since it was used on veterans of WWII. Studies have continued to show the impact music can have on patients suffering from all forms of neurological disorders, including dementia. Its benefits affect both the physical and mental issues that stem from this mental illness.

Why combine music and Dementia?

The many qualities of music tap into different levels of brain function. The limbic system, or the part of the brain responsible for long term memory, remains active even in patients with advanced dementia. Childhood memories of songs are brought out when patients are exposed to the sound of the music and lyrics. Continued therapy has led many to begin tapping their foot to the rhythm, even singing along. Listening to music, singing the words and making music all require different types of brain activity. Although music therapy can not cure dementia, research shows it has the potential to slow the progress by activating the brain and its neurological connections.

Beyond the physical benefit lies the impact on the mental state a person suffering from dementia. The decrease in short term memory, struggles to communicate and reason lead many to become depressed and easily agitated. These men and women become like children. They feel trapped in a mind and body that is not capable of expressing itself or being independent. This leads to a frustration that manifests itself in childlike acting out. It is often these symptoms of dementia that are the hardest for caregivers to handle. The combination of music and dementia has been shown to calm this agitation and increase social interaction. The realization that their minds are still holding on to memories of the life they had also helps ease depression. Music helps them to grasp at something that makes them feel whole again, even if for a short time. A person with a strong mental state is able to respond to other therapies and lessens the weight of their care for their doctors, facilities and family.

The Future of Music and Dementia as an effective Treatment

The research is far from complete in regards to music therapy and its impact on dementia sufferers. The fact that each patient needs the music tailored to their specific situation makes it difficult to do standard trials. However, the well-documented benefits of music therapy for neurological disorders has been substantial enough to lead Medicare to reimburse the cost of the therapy. Medicaid also supports its use in some situations, helping to lift the considerable financial responsibility that plagues these families and care providers.

Music has always been a source of pleasure. It opens up the heart and mind in ways we are just now starting to fully understand. It has been said that music calms the savage beast. It does so much more. It gives dementia sufferers a chance to reconnect with their past memories and with the world around them. For the families and caregivers, music is much more than notes and lyrics, it is a hope strong enough to lean on.

Comments 4

  • I totally agree- music eases a lot!!

  • I am a 70 year old female who has just been diagnosed with frontal lobr dementia and I am petrified as my Mom had Dementia (not sure what kind) and Alzheimer’s disease.  The doctor has put me on Namedean (hope I am spelling it right.  I have had a case of the flu but feel a little better.  I do have heart problem, had triple bypass 4 years ago, have a pacemaker and difibulator, 2 stents.  Heart problems, diabetes 3 spinal surgeries in the 90’s.  I live with my husband in my daughter’s home.  .  

    • Isn’t life absurd?  I’m sure you never dreamed of having such a rich and varied cornucopia of medical nasties, Skiela.  My sister is 64 and we’re in the process of diagnosing her dementia.  

      While there’s nothing fun about it, humor will at least make the ride easier to bear.  Apologize to everyone now for any unusual things you may say or do.  Make a list of things that make you happy – petting a puppy dog, planting a flower, fond memories, family traditions, and favorite movies, authors, comedians, TV shows, friends, recipes, and songs.  Better do it now, girlfriend, before you forget!  ;o)  

      Your family will be glad to have a go-to bucket of sure-fire ways to lift your spirits if you encounter a bleak day.  Y’all can enjoy these happy things together and make some new memories.  Good ones for them to keep of you forever.

      Look at it this way – if the dementia gets you first, you won’t give a rip about your heart problems.  On the other hand, if your ticker gives out before your mind goes, you’ll have beaten the dementia.  Either way, you’re a winner!

      I do hope you’ve taken this in the spirit in which it’s intended.  We’re all in this together.  Here’s hoping everyone reading this just blinks their eyes one day, way far off in the future of course, and finds themselves in heaven.  Let’s look for each other when we get there!  I’ll be hangin’ with Mama and Dan Fogelberg, for starters.

  • As a hospice nurse I saw the positive effects music had on my dementia patients.Patients who we thought were non-verbal would start to tap their feet and sing along to the music of their youth. Music therapist are an invaluable asset in treatment of dementia!

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