Dementia has been studied extensively and the results are clear:
Music makes a difference.
Dementia is a general term that covers a wide range of specific medical conditions affecting the neurological system. This includes Alzheimer’s disease which accounts for 60-80% of dementia cases in America today. The abnormal changes in the brain caused by these disorders trigger a decline in cognitive abilities, including memory, attention, and communication skills, and changes in mood or behavior.
A dementia diagnosis can be incredibly difficult both for the person being diagnosed and their loved ones, especially as it progresses. Extensive research has gone into dementia and many scientists and doctors alike have found that specific medication-free therapies and activities can have a positive and sometimes lasting effect. One of the most studied is the effects of both listening to and engaging with music.
The healing power of music for patients suffering from dementia is not surprising if you think about it. Here are 5 ways music has been shown to increase cognitive ability and elevate the relationships between the patients and their loved ones:
1. Music evokes emotions that are tied to memories.
This applies to everyone, not just patients. Play a popular song when you were in high school and, whether you liked that song or not, you are immediately brought back to that time. Maybe you can even remember minute details, like the sound of your best friend’s voice, the color of the balloons at your prom, or even the smell of your locker. Many patients who suffer from memory loss seem to lose who they are but spring back to life when an old familiar song awakens those memories.
“Music is known to be the universal language
and when language is barricaded by a disease,
sometimes music can penetrate that like nothing else can.”-Ryan Carney
Ryan Carney’s father was diagnosed with brain cancer which eventually took his ability to speak, but we’ll not spoil what happened. Watch this heartwarming video about the healing magic of music, and how Ryan uses his cello now to miraculously conjure memory from residents in senior care homes.
2. Music appreciation is one of the last remaining abilities in dementia.
Alzheimer’s does not only affect memory but also impacts behavior and senses as well. Even in the advanced stages of dementia, music sessions have been scientifically proven to improve both cognitive and motor functions as well as elevate moods. Music is processed in multiple areas of the brain, some of which may be less affected than others. One study suggests that familiar music from the patient’s young adult years (age 18-25) has the most significant effects.
3. Both listening and singing are engaging.
Listening to music and singing along with it can stimulate several areas of the brain, including:
The Auditory Cortex which is responsible for processing sound, of course, and is particularly active when listening to music. The auditory cortex is located in the temporal lobes of the brain.
The Prefrontal Cortex, responsible for planning, decision-making, and problem-solving, is also involved in the emotional processing of music.
The Hippocampus which is the part of the brain that is important for memory formation and retrieval. Music has been shown to activate the hippocampus which is how it can evoke memories and emotions from the past.
The Amygdala; the part of the brain that is involved in the processing of emotions, particularly fear and pleasure. Music can stimulate the amygdala and evoke emotional responses from tears to laughter.
And the Cerebellum. This is the part of the brain that is responsible for movement and coordination. Music can stimulate the cerebellum and may explain why people tend to move or dance when they hear music.
4. Music can shift mood, manage stress and stimulate positive interactions.
Despite the activation of so many parts of the brain when interacting with music, listening and singing surprisingly take little to no mental processing. This means that it is easy for patients in all stages to get started, which can really make a difference in their self-esteem and lead to more positive interactions.
5. Music can bring emotional and physical closeness.
Patients suffering from moderate dementia tend to lose their ability to share their emotions, which can not only make the situation difficult for the patient, but also for their caregiver and loved ones. Motor functions also diminish, but with the right music, many patients begin to tap, clap, or even dance, which brings on enough comfort to lead to hugs, kisses, and touching which may have previously been too uncomfortable.
Harmony & Healing offers one-time, personalized, live, virtual musical visits
to patients and their loved ones at absolutely no cost.
Our talented musicians are here to bring joy and healing!