How can singing help with dementia?

Dementia is a disease that presents a significant challenge to modern society. It can cause dependency in patients who tend to struggle with their daily life.

Along with deterioration of cognitive function, many behavioural changes can also occur, which include inappropriate behaviours, hallucinations, anxiety, and aggression. These factors cause the psychological changes, which not only affect the patients but the caretakers or family as well.

How does music therapy help?

To support and engage with dementia patients, a therapy named as “music therapy” is in practice (Koger & Brotons, 2000). Dementia music refers to music’s impact on an individual’s psychological aspects.

Music helps to improve the mood, regulate the behaviour, and relieve the stress. According to researches, music therapy aims for addressing cognitive powers, problems, and to stimulate the emotional senses of the patient. Music therapy aims to give freedom, focus, stability, and to enrich the existence of the patient. Now, music therapy is a valid treatment. These activities are appearing to be beneficial for caretakers as well.

Music in dementia care:

In dementia care, music power is helpful to unlock the memories and give a kick-start to the grey matter in the brain. Music therapy can reach the parts of the brain, which are otherwise unapproachable with other types of communications.

According to professor Paul Robertson, we can remain contactable as the music continues to the end of our lives.

The auditory brain system is the first developed system by 16 weeks in pregnancy. It means that a fetus is musically receptive even a long before its birth. So, it becomes a first in and lasts out case regarding dementia-associated memory breakdown.

In the UK, many music students and experienced musicians continue their practical experience by visiting the care homes as a part of their learning. Musical memory, musical emotion, and musical perception can stay long even after all other memories are lost. For any patient who is suffering from Parkinson’s disease, music therapy is helpful for the fluent motor response as dancing. In dementia, music can improve behaviour, mood, and cognitive functioning. Unlike Parkinson’s disease, these improvements in dementia can stay longer even when the music stops.

Agitation is the most common symptom of dementia and is present in more than 50% of the patients.

There are at least three types:

  1. Non-aggressive (physically) behaviour such as walking and wandering

  2. Physically aggressive behaviour such as kicking and hitting

  3. Vocal or verbal agitation such as demanding attention, repeating words, and shouting

A non-pharmacological treatment:

Regardless of the type, agitation leads to the need for psychotropic drugs, which are detrimental to the patient’s health. That’s why there is more need for non-pharmacological treatments as dementia music therapy and other involving activities. Music therapy can help patients with agitation, but it can even be more beneficial if we use personally preferred music for the patients.

Listening to any preferred or familiar music can elicit happy and pleasurable responses as moving, dancing, or smiling. These responses are even present when general communication is lost. From the point of physiological aspects, music therapy can increase the hormonal levels and heart rate in patients suffering from impairment of cognition. Furthermore, musical instruments can even delay the risk of cognitive decline in the future. The risk of dementia also lowers by staying in touch with music and sounds. Thus, music therapy is a necessity for patients with dementia.

Music for behavioural changes:

A large number of studies (Suzuki, Kanamori, Nagasawa, & Saruhara, 2005) suggest that choir arrangement is beneficial for behavioural changes as well.

 

For instance:

  • Short-term music therapy helps to reduce the symptoms related to mood as anxiety and depression

  • Long-term music therapy helps to treat depression and anxiety even for eight weeks

​According to the results of some studies, music therapy shows improvement in general cognition of the patient (by MMSE score evaluation), executive functioning, and attention. Singing can help the patients to evoke their remote memories by recollecting the names of their children and friends. We can also ask them to recall the immediate-short stories happening in their lives.

If music therapy is in the form of a song or group singing activities, then it can improve verbal memory for patients with mild Alzheimer’s disease. Several studies claim that songs can help patients to recall their lost vocabularies. This therapy can give quick and immediate results with a higher rate of emotional content. The memories of music are generally more positive than negative as compared to other types of interventions.

Additionally, music therapy in early life helps to increase the response of the neurological system and speech in elderly patients who are suffering from dementia (Kerer et al., 2009). Many studies suggest that music therapy has a protective effect in the mild-cognitive changes which can present in the early stages of dementia.

Music therapy delays cognitive decline and promotes the plasticity of the brain. Several types of music are useful in different forms of dementia as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s, vascular, and Lewy body formation.

Dementia UK events, 2020, encourage music therapy for dementia patients. We should arrange group singing activities for elders. These group singing classes and choir music are effective for the mental health of patients.

References:

Craig, J. (2014). Music therapy to reduce agitation in dementia. Nursing times, 110(32-33), 12-15.

Kerer, M., Marksteiner, J., Hinterhuber, H., Mazzola, G., Steinberg, R., & Weiss, E. M. (2009). Dementia and music.

 

Neuropsychiatrie: Klinik, Diagnostik, Therapie und Rehabilitation: Organ der Gesellschaft Osterreichischer Nervenarzte und Psychiater, 23(1), 4-14.

Koger, S., & Brotons, M. (2000). Music therapy for dementia symptoms. The Cochrane database of systematic reviews(3), CD001121-CD001121.

Suzuki, M., Kanamori, M., Nagasawa, S., & Saruhara, T. (2005). Behavioral, stress and immunological evaluation methods of music therapy in elderly patients with senile dementia. Nihon Ronen Igakkai zasshi. Japanese journal of geriatrics, 42(1), 74-82.