Caregiver Connections
Music Therapy and Alzheimer's
Music therapy has been around for many, many years. Listening to music stimulates the brain and the body-mind connection, and can reactivate speech centers of the brain, prompt memory and improve gait and coordination. Scientists have found that the section of the brain associated with music is also associated with human's most vivid memories, and this region of the brain seems to serve as a hub that links familiar music, memories and emotion.

The most successful activity for the Alzheimer's patient is usually one which incorporates music. Different types of music can touch parts of the self which may be unreachable by any other means. All of us have our favorite songs and those songs usually bring back memories of the past. Musical memories are not only associated with the music but also with the circumstances surrounding the musical experience. Therefore, listening to music can indirectly stimulate the recall of memory fragments that otherwise could not be retrieved. This can be comforting to people with dementia to be able to retrieve some memories. Researchers have found that listening to certain tunes from one's past, evokes powerful and vivid memories that are immune to people with dementia.

Music can trigger short and long term memory, decrease agitation, and enhance reality orientation and self awareness in patients with Alzheimer's disease. Researchers have also found that music can help reduce stress and anxiety for the patient. When this happens, the need for tranquilizers and physical restraints is lessened. The biggest benefit -- music is free from side effects. Studies have shown that when an Alzheimer's patient reduces stress and anxiety, beneficial physiological changes occur, including improved respiration, lower blood pressure, improved cardiac output, reduced heart rate and relaxed muscle tension.

    Researchers show that the best time for music sessions is during the afternoon around 3 to 4 PM. This is the time of day when Alzheimer's patients begin to display more anxious and agitated behavior, due to the sundown syndrome. Also, studies have shown that music at mealtimes reduces dementia-related difficult behaviors, leading to increased food intake. Listening to music at bedtime reduces depression and stress.
Here are a few tips for effective music interventions:
  • Music pieces should have a gentle rhythm
  • Music should be played at a volume that is high enough to be enjoyed by a person, but low enough to make conversation possible.
Music therapy provides opportunities for:
  • Memory recall which contributes to reminiscence and satisfaction with life.
  • Positive changes in mood and emotional states.
  • Sense of control over life through successful experiences.
  • Awareness of self environment which accompanies increased attention to music.
  • Anxiety and stress reduction for older adult and caregiver.
  • Non pharmacological management of pain and discomfort.
  • Stimulation which provokes interest even when no other approach is effective.
  • Structure which promotes rhythmic and continuous movement or vocal fluency as an adjunct to physical rehabilitation.
  • Emotional intimacy when spouses and families share creative music experiences.
  • Social interaction with caregivers and families.
For families, music therapy provides opportunities for:
  • A forum to share common experiences and enjoyment as a couple or family.
  • Meaningful time spent together in a positive, creative way.
  • Relaxation for the entire family.
  • Stimulation for reminiscence of family bonds.
  • Unity and intimacy for families through verbal and nonverbal interaction.
  • Respite for the caregiver.
Benefits of music therapy:
  • Music therapy reduces depression among older adults.
  • Music experiences can be structured to enhance social/emotional skills to assist in recall and language skills and to decrease problem behaviors.
  • Music tasks can be used to assess cognitive ability in people with Alzheimer's disease.
  • Music is effective in decreasing the frequency of agitated and aggressive behaviors for individuals diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease and related dementia.
  • Individuals in the late stages of dementia respond to and interact with music.
Other tips for music and the person with Alzheimer's include:
  • Pick songs or music that is familiar and enjoyable for the person with Alzheimer's disease.
  • Tapes, CD's, radio programs, even live music may be beneficial. Avoid music that may be too loud or interrupted by noisy commercials; too much stimulation can cause confusing and agitation.
  • Turn off the TV and close doors or curtains to avoid over-stimulation.
  • Choose music to set the mood you're hoping to create: Quiet music may be suitable before bedtime, while soft but upbeat tunes may be appropriate for a special birthday celebration.
  • Encourage those with Alzheimer's to clap or sing along or play a musical instrument.
  • Supplement music with fond reminiscences and family photos.
  • Select songs with place names to facilitate orientation to places.
  • Select songs with personal names - this will help to acknowledge the patients presence.
  • Select seasonal songs to promote orientation to time.