Dementia is something we hope does not affect us or a loved one in our golden years, but the reality is a great proportion of elderly Australians are currently living with the disease.
Alzheimer’s Disease International estimates that currently, 35.6 million people are suffering from dementia worldwide; this number has been projected to increase to 65.7 million by 2030 and 115.4 million people by 2050.
While researchers from around the world are working hard to find new ways to treat Alzheimer’s and prevent the onset of dementia, there are some revolutionary therapeutic tools available to help manage the cognitive and emotional symptoms of dementia. Music therapy is an outstanding tool that Freedom Aged Care Bendigo have been including in their residents’ care plans for some time with promising results.
When a resident has a cognitive impairment, music therapy offers a positive and nurturing way for loved ones and carers to connect. If they are unable to speak or articulate clearly, humming or playing along with music can provide positive ways to express themselves. Likewise, listening to music can also prompt recollections of fond memories which can help treat emotional symptoms such as aggression or withdrawal.
The power of music
There is no doubt that music has incredible power to affect us emotionally and physically — especially for individuals with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Neuroscientists, now equipped with better technology to examine our brains, have a renewed interest in finding out exactly how music affects the neural pathways and connections in our brains.
Music therapy works by using sounds to awaken the parts of the brain that are not impacted by dementia.
The music evokes responses, such as singing or humming, movement and brief moments of reconnection with loved ones. Music that is chosen from the individual’s young adult years, ages 18 to 25, are most likely to have the strongest responses and the most potential for positive engagement and recollection.
Unfamiliar music can also be beneficial because it carries no memories or emotions, reducing the possibility of a negative reaction.
A 2015 study by the Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge examined the impact of music therapy on dementia patients and found that it improved participants’ dementia symptoms and general sense of wellbeing, while also leading to a decline in behavioural issues towards caregivers.
Music therapy has even been shown to reduce the need for some medications and reduce pain and discomfort for some residents.
Music and other therapy
Music therapy can be used in conjunction with other therapeutical activities to create a holistic approach to dementia treatment, such as creating art, gardening, crafts, cooking and games. Freedom Aged Care Bendigo’s residents engage in a variety of these activities, guided by a Diversional Therapist, which creates a relaxed environment with no strict schedule to be followed.
Even in late stages of dementia, when music therapy is used, it can help to shift mood, provide a sense of control over life, manage stress, stimulate positive interactions with others, facilitate better brain function, and coordinate motor movements.
***Freedom Aged Care Bendigo has kindly contributed this article on music therapy to Dementia News. Dementia Australia does not endorse a particular facility or program.