Alzheimer’s and Music Therapy

Music Therapy and Alzheimer'sAlzheimer’s and Music Therapy

Alzheimer’s disease is a degenerative neurological disorder that causes declines in cognitive functioning. There are currently many studies being done to determine nonpharmacological therapies to help those with Alzheimer’s and related dementias. Music therapy is one such approach.

Playing music is a great way to stimulate the minds of Alzheimer’s patients and those with related neurological disorders. Researchers at the Iran University of Medial Sciences may have found that music therapy contributes to a reduction in agitation, a common symptom of Alzheimer’s.[1] Other studies have also noticed the benefits of playing music for Alzheimer’s patients because many affected individuals retain the capacity to process music and rhythm even during late stages of the disease. This is because listening to music does not necessarily require a complex cognitive response to recognize it and to cue emotions.[2] [3] Since people can process music with less cognitive effort than other tasks, it has become a useful therapeutic technique to stimulate the brain.

The Benefits of Music

Music plays a large role in relaxation, the production of memories, and evoking bodily responses. Think of how you feel when you hear a song that you love. How does it affect your body? You might start unknowingly to tap your foot, hum along, bob your head, and close your eyes. In fact, the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once stated, “We listen to music with our muscles.”[4]  A song, if poignant or powerful enough, may send shivers throughout your whole body. You might even remember a time in your life when this song was very meaningful to you.  And this song may get stuck in your head all day. Yet much of this happens without concentrated effort and energy. It is a passive process that incites numerous responses throughout our whole body. These facts make the use of music in therapy for those with neurological disorders an effective way to stimulate mental and bodily activity.

Research is still being conducted on the ways music therapy helps Alzheimer’s patients. Even though music’s complex effects may still be somewhat mysterious to us, its therapeutic efficacy has been seen in experiments when familiar songs were played to participants. Music therapy may not only reduce agitation in those with Alzheimer’s, it may also reduce anxiety and enhance the retrieval of certain memories like autobiographical memory (i.e. awareness of someone’s personal history in relation to their personal identity).[5] [6] Although more research does need to be done on the various effects of music therapy and degenerative neurological disorders, one could safely suggest that music therapy may be a harmless alternative or supplement to other forms of Alzheimer’s care.

[1] Zare, Maryam, Azizeh Afkham Ebrahimi, and Behrooz Birashk, “ The effects of music therapy on reducing agitation in patients with Alzheimer’s disease, a pre-post study,” International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry 25 (2010): 1309-1310.

[2] Dolegui, Arielle S., “The Impact of Listening to Music on Cognitive Performance,” Inquiries. http://www.inquiriesjournal.com/articles/762/the-impact-of-listening-to-music-on-cognitive-performance (Accessed on October 28, 2016).

[3] Alzheimer’s Foundation of America. https://www.alzfdn.org/EducationandCare/musictherapy.html (Accessed October 28, 2016).

[4] Quoted in: Sacks, Oliver, “The power of music,” Brain 129 (2006): 2528-2532.

[5] Vink, A.C., et al., “The effect of music therapy compared with general recreational activities in reducing agitation in people with dementia: a randomized controlled trial,” International Journal of Geriatric Psychology 28 (2013): 1031-1038.

[6] Arroyo-Anolló, Eva M., Juan Poveda Díaz, and Roger Gil, “Familiar Music as an Enhancer of Self-Consciousness in Patients with Alzheimer’s Disease,” BioMed Research International (2013): 1-10.

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