Dementia 101: For the Love of Music

How music empowers PLWD (people living with a disability)

Understanding dementia is not a simple task. We at Faircape Health, provide help, care, and support to those struggling with the challenges of a potentially debilitating disease. Abnormal brain changes are the root cause of the disorders collectively referred to as “dementia.” There are many questions about whether dementia is a natural part of ageing. It is not. We will help you understand what dementia is, what causes it, and how you can care for your loved one during this strange and challenging time.  

Sound Relief

Music, according to research and personal experience, can help reduce the often-distressing symptoms of dementia, such as agitation, apathy, and anxiety. Music can evoke feelings and memories, connecting a person to their past and fostering relationships with caregivers and dementia patients. Sounds and music help people with dementia reaffirm their personal identity and social connections.

Music helps improve overall health and wellbeing – lowers stress related hormones, maintains cognitive health, encourages social and communication skills, and improves physical health through movement. Music can also trigger the brain to release chemicals such as endorphins that distract the body from pain. 

Behavioural Benefits

Learning a musical instrument, according to recent research, can prevent cognitive ageing and increase brain plasticity in older people. As we age, certain tasks typically remain intact and are particularly resistant to deterioration. These include listening to music, dancing, throwing a baseball, and riding an indoor bicycle. These kinds of activities are taught to children at a young age and become ingrained in their formative years. Our brain holds on to two types of memory, procedural and explicit.

Procedural memory is a type of long-term memory that is used to carry out various actions and skills, and explicit memory is the memory for facts, knowledge, and reasoning. In dementia cases, explicit memory eventually fades away as the condition progresses. Music based interventions for people living with dementia improved general attention, cognition,  memory, speech and communication skills.

“Music imprints itself in the brain deeper than any other human experience.

Music evokes emotion and emotion can bring memory. 

Music brings back the feeling of life when nothing else can.”

Dr. Oliver Sacks

Muscle Memory

Scientific studies have found that, overall, music is the most effective non-pharmacological therapeutic intervention in dementia cases. Only music therapy and behavioural management techniques were shown to be significant in their effectiveness for reducing behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia (BPSD) compared to other interventions. Music can help PLWD connect even when verbal communication is difficult. 

Helpful tips when selecting music for a person with dementia:

  • Find music that the person enjoys and is familiar to them. If at all possible, let them pick the music.
  • Choose a source of music that won’t cause confusion.  
  • Use music to create. e.g., a tranquil piece of music can help create a calm environment, while a faster paced song from someone’s childhood may boost spirit and evoke happy memories.
  • Encouraging movement like clapping and dancing will add to the enjoyment.
  • Make sure the volume of the music is not too loud.
  • Avoid sensory overload; eliminate competing noises by shutting windows and doors and by turning off the television. 

Dementia in any form can be frustrating, for patients and their caregivers. Being considerate of the feelings associated with disease and understanding it from your loved ones’ perspective will help. Remember, their brain is struggling with basic functions; they are not trying to deliberately frustrate or anger you. 

At Faircape Health, our dementia caregivers are equipped to navigate the effects of the disease. Our specialist occupational therapists are trained to recognise the best possible therapy for each individual dementia case. We take great care to ensure that each patient receives the respect and care they deserve while overcoming the challenges of their illness. 

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