Music Therapy can help Dementia

This is a guest post by Lucy James.

Music as Medicine – often referred to as the healing power of music

Music, one of the few universals that unite us all, has what appears to be an almost magical ability to affect the brain, the body and the whole person deeply and powerfully. In other words, it can actually influence wellness and health.

The benefits of music

dementia patients hearing music

Music has been shown to have a positive and supportive impact on both those with physical ailments and mental patients. It has been scientifically observed that music:

  • Soothes jagged nerves
  • Boosts the immune system
  • Calms mind and body
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Focuses mind and intention

It is also the best kind of medicine. With its use there are no:

  • Refills
  • Prescriptions
  • Addictions

music helps dementia

It’s not just listening to music that’s medically sound. Physical interaction with music has been shown to have even greater benefits in the medical community. Everything from drumming to fooling around with a xylophone has been credited with helping patients.

Science has tried to distinguish the element or ingredient that makes music such a remarkable tool. Today, at this very moment, somewhere in the world, music is being used in clinics, hospitals, dentists and physicians’ offices, even though they do not completely understand how it’s helping.

Dementia

The word unfortunately is rooted in the Latin, meaning ‘madness.’ It’s actually a degenerative disease, a tragic illness, where an individual suffers a loss of cognitive abilities. It can come with normal aging or a brain injury. It can also be the result of a progressive, long term decline due to disease or damage to the body. While it’s common among the elderly, there is early onset dementia which afflicts individuals younger than 65.
Symptoms of dementia can include, but are not limited to:

  • Loss of memory
  • Difficulty recalling or learning new information
  • Paranoia
  • Personality changes
  • Communication problems
  • Difficulty with organising and planning
  • Hallucinations
  • Irrational reasoning
  • Trouble with motor functions and coordination
  • Inappropriate behavior
  • Agitation

There is no cure for dementia. Currently, the medical community’s best hope is a number of medications for treating symptoms. There are medications that look to improve the functioning of the brain and decrease symptom progression. There are prescriptions for psychosis, sleep problems or mood control. There are non-prescription drug treatments that could be of benefit.

There’s also the healing power of music.

Tests on Music Therapy

A program using music therapy was piloted by MHA, a UK based charity in Queensway, Stafford. The therapy consists of supplying residents with percussive instruments and getting them to use them correctly and with cognisance. The activity is meticulously recorded and researched to see how the use of music works on residents suffering with dementia. In one-on-one sessions with a music therapist, there are signs that residents who have always enjoyed music respond when interacting with music.
For now, there appears to be a caveat. The patient only reacts if someone helps them along, prompting and engaging them in the activity. Yet, it’s still miraculous to see these individuals showing signs of single minded intent where there usually might not have been any.

The MHA program is using dementia care mapping to record and demonstrate how music therapy has the potential to enhance the well-being of individuals struggling with the illness. Developed at the University of Bradford, dementia care mapping is a systematic procedure for identifying the experiences of the patient. It’s carefully observing and recording care from the patient’s point of view with a goal of encouraging patient focused holistic treatment and practices.

The Results of Music Therapy

Relatives of Queensway residents involved in the program have commented seeing something recognisable in their loved ones, a remnant of the pre-dementia persona.
Music therapy has shown enough success at Queensway for the program’s expansion across dementia care homes under the MHA umbrella. This makes MHA one of the few organisations utilising music therapy in a long term care environment on such a wide scale. They plan to recruit a team of therapists to discuss and develop plans for the program across the UK.

MHA has reached out for support with the Music Therapy Appeal. The goal is to cover the costs of on-going staff and project expenses, such as a sufficient inventory of musical instruments for residents to use during sessions.

Music as Hope

Music is used as a tool for wellness all the time. We play music while we exercise. We play music to a child still resting in the womb. We believe it can make us healthy and attentive. A strong body of research even suggests that music even makes us more intelligent and creative, especially if children are exposed to it during the developmental stages of their lives.  Now it seems that music therapy could even revolutionise the way we treat dementia patients.

Author Bio: Lucy James is a freelance writer representing MHA in the UK. MHA are a charity that specialises in elderly care, dementia care and senior housing. You can find out more about MHA, and their dementia care programs, by visiting www.mha.org.uk.

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