Tags: Alzheimer's/Dementia | music | alzheimer | therapy | dementia

Music Rejuvenates Alzheimer's Patients: Researchers

Music Rejuvenates Alzheimer's Patients: Researchers
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By    |   Friday, 28 August 2015 09:32 AM

“Where words fail, music speaks.” That famous quote, attributed to Hans Christian Andersen, is being given new meaning by a growing body of research showing music has extraordinary healing powers for dementia sufferers.

A spate of new studies has found music can not only improve the mood of Alzheimer's disease patients, but listening to favorite songs also boosts their memories, thinking, and cognitive skills in ways scientists are just beginning to understand.

This month’s AARP Bulletin spotlights the latest in the emerging field of music therapy for dementia patients. Mental-health specialists say new studies provide compelling evidence that music is making significant gains in the treatment of Alzheimer’s — an incurable with no effective therapy.

“There is relatively strong evidence, with respect with music’s ability to affect behavior, such as reducing anxiety and agitation,” says Sarah Lock, senior vice president of policy, research, and international affairs at AARP.

Lock tells Newsmax Health the most exciting scientific findings show people with dementia who listen to their favorite style of music score better on tests of cognitive skills, including memory and learning.

“A study out of Boston University found people can learn things better if they’re listening to … their favorite songs,” she explains. “So if we could understand more about that and apply to it to people in treatment, it would really help.”

The impact of music on Alzheimer’s patients was dramatically showcased in the new Glen Campbell biography, “I’ll Be Me,” which chronicles the progression of his Alzheimer’s over the past several years. Over the course of the film Campbell becomes less able to remember the lyrics of his songs in concert, yet his guitar playing remains razor-sharp in concert.

Scientists believe music may affect the brain in ways that are beyond the normal channels of intellectual processes that are damaged by dementia. That may explain why some Alzheimer’s patients can remember songs they learned as children, even when they can’t remember the names of their own kids.

For this reason, music may be as important – or more so – than medication to dementia patients, says neurologist Oliver Sacks in his book “Musicophilia,” adding that music “can have a power beyond anything else to restore them to themselves.”

Lock, who lost both of her parents to Alzheimer’s, says she has seen the benefits of music therapy in dementia care facilities and in her personal life.

“We don’t know exactly why, but people talk about the ability of music to affect the natural rhythms [of the brain],” she says. “My father, who was not musically inclined, could sing the ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic’ until the very last.’

Among the many research projects involving music therapy and Alzheimer’s, a handful of studies stand out:
  • Neurologists at the Boston University Alzheimer’s Disease Center have found dementia patients have a much easier time recalling words that are sung to them rather than spoken. That approach may help them learn tasks, such as when to take their medication (with instructions encapsulated in songs).
  • George Mason University researchers have dementia patients who regularly sang songs like "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and "Isn't It Romantic?" scored better on cognitive and memory tests over a four-month period.
  • Music therapist Connie Tomaino, who founded the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function, has conducted numerous studies showing people with dementia respond to songs that are meaningful to them, triggering and strengthening memory.
  • Other researchers have found pairing music with every day activities helps dementia patients better recall how to do them; singing songs from a person’s youth can spark other memories; and up-tempo tunes stimulate both mental and physical activity.
Some states, including Wisconsin and Utah, are incorporating music therapy into their Alzheimer’s care facilities and home healthcare programs. Documentary filmmaker Michael Rossato-Bennett also chronicled the rise of music therapy in his recent film “Alive Inside," which profiles Music & Memory — a program that now used in 1,000 nursing homes worldwide.

With no effective treatments for Alzheimer’s — available drugs merely slow its progression — Lock predicts music therapy will gain in popularity in the decades ahead, as the number of Americans with Alzheimer’s grows as the baby boomers grow older.

“There’s lots of good reasons for that,” Lock says. “It’s cheap, it’s effective, it involves the caregiver, in terms of interaction with the patient, and … although there is no cure for people with dementia, music can greatly enhance their quality of life.”

She adds that AARP is working to develop an app to find caregivers find individualized music for patients. But even burning a CD or creating an iPod of favorite songs for a friend or relative with dementia can have a positive effect on that person’s quality of life.

“The whole idea of individualized music that you can connect with people with that kind of music,” Lock says. “It’s absolutely critical from a policy perspective, that you can actually positively affect people’s lives.”

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A growing body of research is showing that music has extraordinary healing powers for dementia sufferers. New studies find that listening to favorite songs can improve the mood of Alzheimer's patients, boost memory, thinking, and cognitive skills in ways scientists are just beginning to understand.
music, alzheimer, therapy, dementia
Friday, 28 August 2015 09:32 AM
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