Alzheimer’s disease is also widely known as “old timer’s disease,” in which the patient diagnosed suffers memory loss of varying severity throughout the progression of the illness. It most often affects individuals over 65, and unfortunately has no cure as of yet. The only thing that can be done to combat Alzheimer’s in patients is to improve their overall quality of life.
Music can help in this respect. Studies point to music therapy as a viable way to improve Alzheimer’s patients’ communication abilities, and even as a way to lower psychiatric drug dependence.
Music and Alzheimer’s Disease
Patients with Alzheimer’s stand to benefit in several ways from music at every stage of the deteriorating disease. This is notably true especially with patients suffering in the later stages of the illness, in which they tend to disconnect from all their surroundings— experiencing a paralyzing inability to verbally connect and communicate with others.
A noticeable change in Alzheimer’s patients’ disposition takes place upon hearing music. Sometimes they perk up with a renewed interest in what’s happening around them. Other times they might dance, sing, or even clap their hands with the melody.
The reason why music affects them differently from other stimuli is that the rhythmic response is able to bypass normal response processes in the brain. The response to the music is direct— ordering the body to respond by either humming, clapping, or swaying to the music.
What the Research Says
Researchers believe that music has the power to simultaneously stimulate many regions of the brain, i.e. those that affect language, mood, and movement; in addition to the senses of sight, hearing, and touch. Conducted at the University of California, Davis; the research identified a part of the brain that stores memories through the linkage of familiar songs and associated emotions with those same memories. The past emotional experience a person has with a song typically determines the way in which they’ll be affected by that song. When presented with a song associated with a negative emotional memory, an Alzheimer’s patient may react with agitation, tenseness, and/or with pained facial expressions.
Music therapy can help those afflicted with Alzheimer’s in a variety of ways. Depending on what the therapy seeks to do, a different type of music is played. For example; quick tempo, percussive music may help a patient with alertness and finding the motivation to take action in some way. Music with slower, more sedative qualities may help with soothing a stressed-out, agitated patient. Additionally, music therapy may make emotionally detached patients grow more affectionate toward others again.