For past years music therapy has been used as a powerful healing agent to improve psychological, physiological and emotional integration of an individual during treatment from an illness or disability. Music has various appealing qualities such as; it is aesthetic, spiritual and social which help people regain their memories back and help cope with their mental disorders. Recent studies have shown that music therapy has been very effective among the patients of Dementia as it decreases agitation, reduces disruptive behavior and abnormal motor activity.
The Alzheimer’s Association describe dementia as, “Dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life. Memory loss is an example. Alzheimer's is the most common type of dementia” ( What is Dementia?, 2018). Music therapy helps release endorphins in your brain which improves mood and alleviates brain motor activity. Human body is a supply of neurochemicals which makes us experience all emotions in our life, one of them is endorphin which is produced by the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland.
The growing body of evidence of music therapy encourages doctors and health specialists to promote music therapy as a safe, low cost alternative than invasive surgeries to help patients cope with their mental disorders. Mathews, Steve claimed music as one of the most currently effective treatment for dementia as he explicated that, “Music therapy is currently one of the most effective – indeed, cost effective – ways of achieving respectful recognition of the agency of the dementia sufferer while at the same time enabling social life for both sufferers and their carers to be improved” (Mathews, 2015,p. 578). Music therapy has powerful tools which make immediate connections with those people who are unable to place their emotions and physical realities into words.
Loneliness can be distressing to patients and they desire emotional closeness in every stage of the disease thus music therapy conveys denotation and emotional expression directly into the lives of those suffering from advanced dementia. The music also helps reduce the aggressive behavior of the older adults with dementia such as their regular activities and communication with their spouse or families.
Music engages wide areas of brain which are involved in emotion, motivation, cognition and neuromotor functioning however it also activates the mood boosting hormones such as dopamine and endorphins to release in the blood. Recent studies have shown that music is effective for slowing down the progression of dementia in older adults for example, Renee Gendreau talks about how music changed life of a man named Walter Karski who was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia, and his wife tried various therapies, but nothing seemed to work except music. Walters’ wife almost cried when he saw her husband regaining his language and signing skills back the first time, “Yesterday, ‘John Denver's classic love song brought tears to Jane's eyes as she watched Walter, with headphones in place, sing along. As his memory faded, I noticed music always seemed to calm him,’ said Jane, a Neshannock Township dentist who also serves as organist at Clen-Moore Presbyterian Church” (Gendreau, 2018).
Walter’s obsessive and compulsive behavior issues reduced significantly, as his wife made him take 11-structured music classes every week. A study carried out at Anglia Cambridge University, London which comprised of 70 older adults who attended weekly music session program called “Together in Sound”, realized their cognitive ability and recollection of past increased vastly. The Director of the Program noticed significant decrease in their levels of agitation and disruptive behaviors as he said that, “People with dementia, who completed a rating scale, noted a slight increase in mood and memory, while other aspects including energy, living conditions and physical health were rated as slightly decreased, reflecting an expected progression of their condition” (Call for more”, 2018).
Steve Mathews acknowledged music therapy as a potential intervention to slow progression of dementia as he says that, “Music therapy enables those with dementia to re-enter their social world, to be responsive to others, to participate, to converse, even to engage in some minimal kinds of interpretation” (Mathews, 2015, p. 575). Music has been explored a way to communicate with the patients of dementia who have lost their ability to comprehend and express their words. The rates of dementia are increasing widely particularly in countries like USA, Canada, Europe and Australia, which also leads to pressure on health budgets and society to find low cost, effective measures to help suffers to cope with their cognitive impairment.
Music activity is an excellent source of entertainment as it gives new insights and perceptions of life to older people which gives them an opportunity to communicate better with their loved ones and caregivers. Aldridge in his article suggests various music techniques like, “singing, instrument playing, dance-movement, music listening, composition-improvisation and musical games aim to stimulate and enhance the different functional areas of older people: physical-motor, cognitive and social-emotional areas” which improves the overall wellbeing of dementia patients to some extent.
Olivier Sacks who is a neurologist claims in his book Musicophilia that music works as a medicine to Alzheimer’s patients as he continues that, “Music is no luxury to them, but a necessity, and it can have a power beyond anything else to restore them to themselves, and to others, at least for a while' (“Call for more”, 2018). Music therapy has been shown a low cost intervention to bring back the memory of older people like, Steve Mathews explains how old songs triggers memory, “Importantly, playing old songs triggers those parts of long-term memory still unaffected by the disease.5 However, the improvements in patients may also be a function of the relationships to carers who engage in the therapy” (Mathews, 2015, p. 574).
Music has transformative qualities as Alissa Sauer explained how music works on memory, “when we learn music, we store the knowledge as procedural memory. Procedural memory is associated with routines and repetitive activities. As dementia progresses, episodic memory is destroyed but procedural memory is largely left intact” (What is Dementia? 2018). A behavioral neuroscientist Jane Flinn, at George Mason University carried out a study which comprised of 45 people affected with progressive dementia stage by giving them music singing sessions regularly for straight four months, the results showed drastic improvement in their mental acuity which even hasn’t been improved by medicines. Jane Flinn surprised to see such difference as he said, 'Twenty-one drugs to treat Alzheimer's have failed in the last nine years,' Flinn added, 'I do believe they will eventually find the right drug. But it's going so slowly. In the meantime, these non-pharmaceutical approaches are helpful' (Ellen, 2015).
Music as a non-pharmacological approach not only improved the wellbeing of dementia patients but also lowered the intake of drugs as the Tom Hlavacek, director of the Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association uttered that, “Three years ago, when they started ranking states' use of psychotropic drugs in nursing homes, Wisconsin came in 14th,' he said. 'Now we're fourth in the country. We're way ahead of the curve' (Ellen, 2015).
Music works as a form of expression for Alzheimer’s patients as it triggers old memories and encourages them to communicate effectively. The music therapist who worked with the patients of dementia noticed prominent changes in people as they assert that, “Patients with anxiety and dementia are less agitated and appear calmer. The music transports them to a happier place in their minds.” (Ellen, 2015). Thus, this demonstrates that music has potential benefits on mental health.
Music interventions such as singing, playing an instrument are proven to improve the quality life of patients of dementia, and help sustained connectedness with their loved ones. Thus, it’s a low cost, non-invasive treatment and accessible medium recommended by every caregiver and medical specialists for the Alzheimer’s patients. Studies have discovered that music can recover the cerebral and psychological processes by sensory stimulation of brain and it will decline at a slower pace if music is regularly practiced. In conclusion music stimulates many parts of brain like hippocampus, auditory cortex and broca’s area which are essential understanding of speech and motor skills.
Steve Mathews expresses in his article The Power of Music Therapy that, “music therapy might enable a sufferer to develop new friendships in which the features of direction and interpretation are fully active. The claim is more modest. It is simply that the ability to engage another socially maybe rekindled. Music therapy enables those with dementia to re-enter their social world, to be responsive to others, to participate, to converse, even to engage in some minimal kinds of interpretation.” (Mathews, 2015, p. 3)
Music helped regained their cognitive stability and mental acuity which rekindled their reminiscence while reducing the disruptive behavior and compulsiveness which helped their families as well. Music therapies interventions are increasing worldwide, and researchers are working and promoting more in the health care facilities. Therefore, music can helps lower the decline of brain damage and rekindle the sufferers with their old ones back. The onset and rate of progression of Alzheimer’s disease can be reduced by music interventions, although it’s not completely proven but at some extent it can help and make lives better.
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