Melodies and rhythm can also help dementia patients.
By Jeanene Dunn, OHM Staff
Dementia is complicated because we understand that the disease robs a person of their memories over time. While that is certainly the case, it can be confusing to grasp how music can help someone who can’t remember anything at all, or even talk, in some cases.
If you have spent time in the company of someone who suffers from dementia, they tend to reside mentally in the past. If they can speak, they will talk of events long past or children who are now adults.
When we think of this behavior, it makes sense that a song from the past would evoke a response in long-buried memories. Researchers – some who happen to be musicians themselves — are actively studying the connection between music and dementia. One such person is Dr. Concetta M. Tomaino, D.A., MT-BC, LCAT, executive director and co-founder of the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function, in Mount Vernon, NY.
She originally started working with dementia patients in care facilities and discovered that by playing a patient’s favorite song, she could get them to respond to her. Sometimes they would smile, nod their heads or tap their feet. In an interview on caring.com, Dr. Tomaino says, “I learned that music helped to keep them engaged and attentive, and helped to bring out parts of their personality.”
As she discovered the positive influence of music on dementia patients, Dr. Tomaino expanded her research to work with people affected by strokes or other neurological diseases and disorders.
Other programs like Music and Memory® work with caregivers and care facilities to program and provide personalized playlists on iPods® that feature music from the patient’s “era.” Depending on the era, that playlist could include big band music, show tunes, old R&B and soul songs, rock, metal or even hip-hop.
As the boomer generation ages, that playlist could feature music from Carole King and Elton John, to Tupac and Biggie.
While music is certainly not a cure for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, it is a powerful weapon in the arsenal of treatment that doesn’t involve taking a pill.
Sources: Institute for Music and Neurological Function, www.imnf.org Music and Memory, www.musicandmemory.org
Click here to view a performance from The Unforgettables Chorus, a musical group of dementia and Alzheimer’s patients and their family caregivers.