If you’re struggling to connect with a patient with dementia, push aside the frustration and sadness because research shows that music can help you.
Dan Cohen, a social worker, began introducing music to people with dementia in nursing homes. How did he do this? First, he asked the family of the resident to list the songs or instrumental pieces that the resident used to enjoy listening to. Then he put the songs and other music into an MP3 player and gave it to the resident. Depending on the resident, the music Cohen recorded ranged from jazz to rock to classical. The results were always surprising.
Some people, who had seemed unable to speak, started to sing and dance to the music. Others began to speak about when and where they had listened to that music. Listening to the music opened the doors to the residents’ memories. Why was that? Researchers say that listening to music reactivates areas of the brain associated with memory, reasoning, speech, emotion, and reward. Music affects dementia in such a positive way…so try to share time listening together to the music that your Alzheimer’s patient loves.
Music Does More than Affect Dementia
You’re familiar with the rush of pleasure that fills you when you hear music that you like. That’s because when we hear music, the pleasure centers in our brain release dopamine, a neurotransmitter that makes you feel happy. The brain can even anticipate the most pleasurable peaks in familiar music and prime itself with an early dopamine rush. But music is more than a fun activity.
Music and Stroke Recovery
In another study, researchers found that singing lyrics could help people who are recovering from a stroke or brain injury that damaged the left-side of the brain. This side is responsible for speech. The right side of the brain is used for sing. Since this side of the brain hadn’t been damaged, people were able to sing their thoughts and then move on to saying them without the melody.
Using Music to Improve Memory
Two recent studies—one in the United States and the other in Japan—found that music doesn’t just help us retrieve stored memories, it also helps us lay down new ones. In both studies, healthy elderly people took part in several weekly classes where they exercised while listening to music. When they were given tests of memory and reasoning, they scored higher than they had done before the exercise and music classes.
Music and Health
Music doesn’t just make you feel good and improve your memory. It can even be good for your health. Research has shown that listening to music is associated with upticks in immunity-boosting antibodies and cells that protect against bacteria and other invaders.
The Steinway Society of Western Pennsylvania Young Artist Volunteers have picked up on how music affects dementia patients and the elderly in general. The group performs works from Chopin, Bach, Liszt, Beethoven and Schubert. They plan to do one concert every three weeks throughout the region. The concerts last close to an hour and are followed up with 30 to 60 minutes of fellowship. The evenings are so popular that residents don’t want to kids to stop playing…so they usually stay on longer.