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Beline Obeid

Music therapy for Alzheimer's patients


October 04, 2012
Music has power, especially for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. It can spark compelling outcomes even in the very late stages of the disease. When used appropriately, music can shift mood, manage stress-induced agitation, stimulate positive interactions, help with cognitive function, and coordinate motor movements. This happens because rhythmic and other well-rehearsed responses require little to no cognitive or mental processing. They are influenced by the motor center of the brain that responds directly to auditory rhythmic cues. A person’s ability to engage in music, particularly rhythm playing and singing, remains intact late into the disease process because, again, these activities do not mandate cognitive functioning for success.Most people associate music with important events and a wide array of emotions. The connection can be so strong that hearing a tune long after the occurrence evokes a memory of it. Prior experience with the song is the greatest indicator of an individual’s likely response.In the late stages of dementia, patients often become agitated out of frustration and sensory overload from the inability to process environmental stimuli. Engaging them in singing, rhythm playing, dancing, physical exercise, and other structured music activities can diffuse this behavior and redirect their attention. For best outcomes, carefully observe your loved ones individual patterns in order to use music therapies just prior to the time of day when disruptive behaviors usually occur.As dementia progresses, individuals typically lose the ability to share thoughts and gestures of affections with their loved ones. However, they retain their ability to move with the beat until very late in the disease process. Ambulatory individuals can be easily directed to couple dance, which may evoke hugs and those who are no longer walking can follow cues to rhythmically swing their arms. An alternative to moving or touching is singing, which is associated with safety and security from early life. Any reciprocal engagement provides an opportunity for caregivers and care receivers to connect with one another, even when the disease has deprived them of traditional forms of closeness.How to engage one in music therapy:Early stagesGo out dancing or dance around the house.Listen to music from their past. Experiment with various types of concerts and venues, giving consideration to endurance and temperament.Encourage an individual who played an instrument to try it again.Compile a musical history of favorite recordings, which can be used to help in reminiscence and memory recall.Middle stagesPlay music or sing as the individual is walking to improve balance or gait. Use background music to enhance mood.Opt for relaxing music — a familiar, non-rhythmic song — to reduce sun downing, or behavior problems at nighttime.Late stagesUtilize the music collection of old favorites that you made earlier.Do sing-alongs, with tunes that are sung by rote from their generation.Play soothing music to provide a sense of comfort.Exercise to music.Do drumming or other rhythm-based activities.Use facial expressions to communicate feelings when involved in these activities.Music therapy may awaken a desire to dance, which can be therapeutic. A patient’s enjoyment is typically increased as they move or sing with the music. Music therapy can also be linked to other memory-stirring activities such as looking at photographs. So turn on the music and have some fun with your loved one. Murphy is a certified senior advisor and the owner of Home Helpers, a non-medical home care business and lives in Grosse Pointe. She can be reached by telephone at (313) 881-4600 or via e-mail at tmurphy572@comcast.net. Home Helpers website is homehelpers-mi.com.

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