The benefits of music therapy can have a profound positive impact on people with dementia. For years, music has been and continues to be a key component of the care program at Providence. Whether one-on-one or in group sessions, each day has time set aside for musical activities. The reason is simple: we see the unmistakeable effect it has on seniors with dementia, including:
- Reducing depression and agitation
- Increasing socialization
- Alleviating difficult behaviors, and
- Improving communication and cognitive skills
Music therapy for dementia, even in seniors with advanced dementia, can have many benefits. Music that has personal significance or that is connected with historical events can elicit responses that the individual may not have been able to show with any other triggers.So, how does music therapy work for people with dementia? There is scientific evidence to suggest a strong connection between the human brain’s auditory cortex and its limbic system, where emotions are processed. According to leading researchers, this link makes it possible for sound to be processed almost immediately by the areas of the brain that are associated with long-term memory and emotions.
In a small 1986 study, only music elicited a physical response from those with final-stage Alzheimer’s as measured in heart rate, breathing, eye blinking, and mouth movement. A later study that used music in palliative care found the combination of language, which is processed by one part of the brain, and music, processed by many parts of the brain, increases the chance of activating neurological pathways that language alone cannot.*
Given the effects of music therapy, below are a few ideas of activities you can practice with the senior in your life. Music therapy should be tailored to the unique preferences of the individual to be most effective:
- Play emotionally significant music from their childhood or early years
- Actively practice music using real instruments, such as the piano, drums, xylophone, etc.
- Sing out loud
- If possible, go to a live concert
- Watch movies with lots of music (The Sound of Music as an example)