How does music overpower dementia?

Have you ever wondered why music therapy is extremely effective for people with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia? The simplest explanation is that music triggers points of pleasure in the brain, which allows good memories to emerge, not allowing other anxious thoughts to prevail.

You’ve probably watched or stumbled upon a video on the Internet with part of the popular documentary “Alive Inside”. An elderly man with late dementia who has lived in a nursing home for nearly 10 years. He barely opens his eyes, and he hasn’t answered for a long time. Whatever they try in the last 2 years – massages, conversations – they do not achieve any result for the body and mind to function again. Until one day they put headphones on his ears and his favorite music from the past sounds from the device. The results are amazing. The man “comes to life”, starts singing, opens his eyes wide and even shakes his legs as if dancing. The German philosopher Immanuel Kant called music “groundbreaking art” and the case of Henry (the man with dementia) proves it – he is literally shaken, as if an invisible force brings him back to life. Once the headphones are removed, the effect of the music does not stop for a while. On the contrary, the usually unable to answer simple questions, Henry, now uses words, connects sentences without pauses and even talks about his love of music. The thought flows smoothly. The greatest achievement is that he remembers and knows who he is, he regains his identity thanks to the music.

Gradually, music therapy began to be used in more people with dementia. This type of therapy gives the brain and body a workout with exercise for breathing, voice, musical memory and movement. From a scientific point of view, music releases dopamine and serotonin in the brain – the hormones of happiness that make a person feel great.

How does music therapy affect the brain?

Depending on its tempo, music can reduce stress and excitement, make the brain quickly extract words, calm and motivate the patient, lower blood pressure and heart rate, and control pain. Simply put, music activates the pleasure centers in the brain.

Let’s not forget the memory. Music can help recall memories – extremely important for the people who are losing their memory and mind. Even in the advanced stage of Alzheimer’s, people have a memory to recognize. If a person has a connection to a song, it is because it reminds him of a person, a place or a time.

What is done in the centers with Memory Care?

Experts advise home assistants at Memory Centers to play music from their patients’ late teens or early 20s, or even when they were very young. They are constantly encouraged to play their favorite songs, performers, melodies, opera or classics, to bring them back to their sweetest times. Dr. Teresa Alison, a musicologist, says that “music works best when it is known and loved”.

Dr. Alison advises home assistants to sing regularly with their patients and residents, saying that morning care is much more enjoyable and relaxing when singing, rather than doing directly the daytime responsibilities. Quieter music is recommended in the morning, when everyone is just waking up, and the tempo gradually accelerates as you take on different household chores in the house.

Music also “moves” the brains of older people who do not have dementia but have suffered a stroke or Parkinson’s or Huntington’s disease. Patients with Parkinson’s have trouble walking, but after Frank Sinatra (for example) they can cross the room imperceptibly. And it will seem as if they do not remember their difficulties.

Have you ever played music to an older relative or loved ones? What do you notice?

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