The Sound of Music
What could be better medicine than a treatment that has only positive side effects, coupled with therapy that is actually enjoyable? This is the “miracle of music,” especially when applied with intention. Music is shown to have the ability to help organize brain waves, especially vital to those who are afflicted with Alzheimer’s.
Usually after twenty minutes of music, observable effects such as singing, foot tapping, and clapping occur. Studies have shown that the results of musical therapy sessions last for several hours afterward. These positive results include elevated mood, increased socialization and appetite, and reduced agitation. These benefits are attributed to the stimulation the brain receives during a music therapy session, a sort of “cognitive workout” inspiring us to coin the phrase, “What exercise is to the body, music is to the brain.” The power of music often inspires physical movement and can be used to encourage gentle exercise.
Because speech, writing and traditional forms of communication are generally compromised for Alzheimer’s patients, music provides an alternative means of maintaining a connection for more normal interaction between a caregiver and a patient. Music used therapeutically creates an environment where the patient can feel nurtured and cared for in a way that is safe, gentle and appropriate. Music is central to maintaining human bonds when those with dementia have lost the ability to initiate communication or to respond verbally.
In the Key of Love
The powers of music, when focused and used therapeutically, are many. Critical to maintaining quality of life for those with Alzheimer’s is management of emotions and preserving the connection with others. Music is conducive to keeping those connections strong as long as possible by helping the participant to focus, increase awareness and stay oriented to their environment. A number of research studies have looked at music therapy as an important adjunct to medical treatment and findings suggest a possible link between the use of music and slowing the progression of dementia.
From the rhythms of the heartbeat experienced in the womb to the stirring sounds of a marching band, rhythmic patterns of music surround us. Language itself has a musical quality to it and, from the beginning of mankind, the sounds resembled music more than the beginning of speech.
Music is primal to life and expressed by each of us every day, whether through dancing to a favorite tune, keeping rhythm with a pencil or when hearing a forgotten melody that reminds us of a special moment. It is central to our lives and is embedded in our culture, defining how we acknowledge milestones, rites of passage and celebrations as well as providing comfort, transformation and inspiration.
Music links us to our world and provides a pathway to our past and a more enjoyable future.
Lois Young-Tulin, PhD, is an Assistant Geriatric Care Manager at Complete Care Strategies