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Music Therapy’s Remarkable Effect on Dementia in Older Adults

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Many of us can relate to the healing power of music. Music has this incredible ability to soothe broken hearts, lift moods or even provide that extra push to conquer miles as a runner. It still holds true for seniors with dementia and other categories of cognitive impairment. Music therapy, specifically, has been proven to have positive effects on mood, behavior, cognition, and mobility. 

This alone is a huge step for residents dealing with the effects of severe memory impairment caused by dementia and Alzheimer’s. Check out this blog we shared earlier in the year about the music therapy program we offer to our residents.

 Why Music Therapy?

In the past 25 years, numerous studies have explored the connection between music and its ability to alleviate age-related cognitive impairment. Many of these studies indicate that music therapy can promote memory and a sense of self to help improve the quality of life of older adults with dementia

Key to note is that music therapy differs from people coming to perform for the residents. It involves creating an assessment plan based on how they are functioning and what their individual needs require. ” While the goal of performing is more focused on entertaining, in music therapy, we’re looking at the responses we get from residents and tailoring what we do to their needs.” 

Karen Sholander, a board-certified music therapist specializing in older adults, has brought her Moment Music Therapy classes to Tribute Senior Living as part of our therapeutic programming, and we’ve seen a big change in our residents ever since she began visiting. It’s always amazing to see how their faces light up whenever she arrives, showing that they remember who she is and an awareness of what she brings to them. 

  “We use music-based interventions to restore, maintain or improve how people function physically, cognitively, and socially,” says Karen. 

Check out this in depth interview with Karen where she discusses at length the power of music therapy on people with memory impairment issues and shares some amazing success stories!

Facilitates Cognitive Function

More studies reveal how music has the remarkable ability to awaken different networks in the brain, effectively delaying the cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer’s disease. For instance, singing classic hits and show tunes from movies and musicals can trigger the recollection of memories and emotions while also enhancing mental performance for individuals.

“It’s not a typical session,” she explains. “It’s designed to get their attention and gradually make them aware of what is happening by tapping their feet, feeling more emotion, and waking their body. We also get them to play instruments and have them reminisce about something nice, like having them sing about home.”

Improves Communication

Music therapy can elicit positive responses and enhance communication, even among individuals in the advanced stages of dementia, where verbal skills may be significantly diminished. “So much research into dementia has shown how the brain processes music,” Karen shared. “When you sing, it uses the same neural pathways as when speaking, waking up that part of the brain. As a result, a person will speak more than usual after singing.”

Encourages Movement

Music therapy can motivate seniors, even those with limited mobility, to engage in dance or other forms of creative movement, further boosting physical health and fostering connections with those around them. “A steady beat or rhythm primes the body for movement,” she asserts. “We aim to get the body moving and the blood flowing. Awakening the body also feeds the brain because they work together.”

It Stimulates Positive Emotional Interactions

Additionally, music therapy has been shown to elicit positive emotions, reduce agitation and improve behavioral issues common in the middle stages of the disease. “One client of mine named Mary, who does not use words well, was asked, “Where do you like to walk?” she responded, “I like….” She then spontaneously told her daughter, “I love you,” which she had not said in a long time as she didn’t speak. Music therapy gave Mary and her daughter that beautiful moment.

Increasing Quality of Life in People with Memory Impairment

At Tribute, our residents are more engaged and much happier with music therapy. With first-hand experience witnessing the profound impact of music therapy in enhancing the quality of life of dementia residents, it makes a compelling case to expand and prioritize these engaging sessions within our facility.

Let us help make a difference in your aging loved ones. Contact us today to learn more. 

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