What Experts Are Saying About Music Therapy for Dementia and Alzheimer’s Patients

Music therapy is not a new phenomenon; in fact, it has been around since the time of the ancient Greeks.

The idea of using music as part of the healing process was not recognized as a profession until after the World Wars. Musicians performed for the veterans dealing with trauma from their war injuries. Due to the veterans’ positive response, Veterans Administration Hospitals decided to hire musicians to perform regularly.

What is Music Therapy?

Certified professionals who have completed an accredited music therapy program administer music therapy to patients who do not react positively to other forms of treatment. Unlike other types of therapy, this treatment uses music to help patients recover from an illness or surgery and can help to improve memory and recall.

What are the Different Types of Music Therapy?

There are two types of music therapy: active and passive.

Active music therapy lets the patients play instruments. Therapists have seen swift physical benefits from musical participation. Tomaino, director of the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function at Beth Abraham Family of Health Services in New York, says playing musical instruments can help patients maintain the strength of holding a fork or glass.

Passive music therapy is simply allowing patients to listen to music they are familiar with, which can elicit memories and even revitalize motor skills.

Why Music Therapy?

Music gives individuals who have trouble expressing themselves with words an avenue to communicate their feelings or needs. Studies have that shown that patients’ skills improve and positively affect other areas of their lives when music therapy is employed.

According to the American Music Therapy Association, music therapy supports effective overall physical fitness, facilitates movement, increases people’s motivation to become engaged in their treatment, provides emotional support for clients and their families, and gives patients an outlet for expressing their feelings.

vinyl record

How Does Music Therapy Work?

Similar to other therapies, patients undergo an assessment. Based on the patient’s needs, a music therapist provides treatment. Most treatments involve creating, singing, moving to and listening to music, as outlined by the American Music Therapy Association.

Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease

Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are two of the leading causes of death among the elderly in America. The number is rising, and experts predict that by 2050, both diseases will affect 16 million elderly globally.

Dementia and Alzheimer’s patients have short- and long-term memory loss along with impaired judgment, thinking, and other higher cortical dysfunctions. In some cases, patients experience personality changes.

Music Therapy for Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease

Currently, pharmacotherapy is one of the most common treatments for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. This type of therapy uses pharmaceutical drugs to treat the symptoms but has side effects such as nausea, vomiting, and headaches. Music therapy is a wonderful alternative. It assuages the symptoms and helps to slow progression of the condition.

elderly hands playing piano

Music Therapy and Its Results

Music is a universal experience and involvement. At some point, virtually everyone has either played a musical instrument, sung in a choir, or attended a performance.

Music that is familiar to patients can elicit memories, movements, motivation, and positive emotions for older adults affected by dementia who may otherwise be unmotivated, unable to respond, or resistant to interventions, according to Maturitas: Official Journal of the European Menopause and Andropause Society.

Music Therapy and Singing

Music therapists have used singing as a tool in their practices. Singing has the power to accelerate speech rehabilitation since it involves the right hemisphere of the brain. Additionally, singing can help patients with articulation, rhythm and breath control.

Music therapy allows them to sing their favorite songs to express their feelings.

Distressed and restless patients respond well to music. Therapists report that music can also lower stress hormones and ease those with exhaustive dementia symptoms.

Music Therapy and Social Groups

Music connects patients in group therapy sessions. The patients realize a sense of belonging, which helps them sustain their cognitive and emotional functions along with improved social skills, according to Maturitas.

Music Therapy and Its Limits

Great strides have been made in the music therapy field, and there have been significant results among dementia patients in all stages. However, there is limited evidence to make it a standard of medical care.

To be more certain about its clinical possibilities, therapists, and clinicians must conduct more trials with definitive results. A few measures that may prove music’s effectiveness in disease treatment include structural magnetic resonance imaging (sMRI) and behavioral and endocrinological assessments.

Conclusion

Music therapy is part of the holistic healing field. It provides a safe way to treat dementia and Alzheimer’s patients without the side effects of pharmaceuticals. Patients’ symptoms are often alleviated, and sometimes their memory and motor skills are revitalized.

Stacey Warren