Music Therapy and Alzheimer’s Disease

by MichelleR on December 28, 2012

Rose is in her eighties and lives in a nursing home due to her diagnosis of Probable SDAT – Senile Dementia of the Alzheimer Type. She speaks in one-word syllables, appears unaware of her surroundings and cannot take care of her bodily needs. However, when she is visited by the music therapist and sings “You are my Sunshine,” her words are clearly understood. Her singing has recognizable pitch and melody, and she sings with emotional expression. Her face brightens, and she makes eye contact with the therapist. Rose also enjoys participating in group music therapy. The members of her drum circle group have learned how to start and stop together, to change their playing from loud to soft and to play a variety of rhythmic patterns. They stay seated and pay attention to the therapist’s directions for the entire thirty-minute session. The nursing staff on the unit has noticed that for several hours following the group, those who have participated seem to have a better mood, are less agitated and more relaxed.
A diagnosis of “Alzheimer’s Disease” strikes fear and sadness into a family’s heart. There is no cure, and the care of a person with Alzheimer’s Disease can mean heavy financial and psychological burdens for family members. It is important that families facing this situation be aware that there are many sources of help and support. One important source of help can be music therapy. Research studies have shown that people with Alzheimer’s Disease respond to music at all stages of the disease. For example, in the early stages of the disease, the music therapist can help the person use existing music skills to constructively fill his or her leisure time. Music also can be paired with relaxation techniques to relieve symptoms of depression. During the middle stages of the disease, listening to and talking about familiar music can provide a source of comfort and reassurance. Theme-based music therapy groups can challenge cognitive skills, encourage social interaction and improve mood. Even people in the later stages of dementia can benefit from involvement with music. At this stage, music can encourage communication through eye contact, touch and changes in facial expression. Favorite recorded music also can be helpful in decreasing problem behaviors associated with agitation or aggression, and singing with or to a person can provide meaningful human contact.
Why a music therapist? Won’t the radio, TV or CD player accomplish the same goals? The music therapist’s specialized training enables him or her to choose and adapt music experiences that match the individual’s interests, needs and abilities. At every stage of Alzheimer’s Disease, there is a greater chance of success when a music therapist is present to structure the experience and to offer encouragement. Carefully chosen music experiences plus the nurturing contact with the therapist can draw the person with dementia out of a world of isolation into a world of comfort and connection. For the individual with Alzheimer’s Disease, music therapy can be a gift that helps to reveal hidden sources of creativity, and to restore a sense of their personhood.



reblogged from  Anne Lipe, Ph.D., MT-BC 

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