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Throughout human history, music has been essential for self-expression, celebration, and bringing people together. Now, some scientific research indicates music may be a promising tool for reducing stress, anxiety, and depression for individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease, as well as for their caregivers.
How does music affect the brain?
Music is powerful, and activates many parts of the brain. Alongside the auditory cortex, which processes sound, brain regions specific to memory and movement are affected. Due to this widespread effect, long-term memories of music may be spared for longer in Alzheimer’s disease.
Music’s therapeutic potential
Music can have positive effects on mood, alertness, and possibly even perceptual and motor skills in individuals with Alzheimer’s disease.
In the long term, music therapy may have the potential to lessen depressive symptoms and help improve quality of life.
Music, rather than simple verbal instructions, may help people with Alzheimer’s recall personal memories. In one study, participants with and without Alzheimer’s were asked to listen to instrumental music, then describe any memory from their past brought to mind by the music. Many participants with Alzheimer’s disease were able to successfully discuss memories in vivid detail and with specificity.
Incorporating music into daily life
Music can remain a valuable way to connect, even when a person with Alzheimer’s disease is no longer capable of verbal communication. It can also play a useful role in caregiving.
If you are caring for or living with an individual with Alzheimer’s, here are some tips for incorporating music into their daily routine:
- Play tunes that resonate: Does the person have a favorite song? Coordinate with family and friends to develop a playlist of songs that bring joy and that are associated with positive memories.
- Get moving: Simple movements like clapping your hands can be a great way to engage with the person. Consider dancing, if you’re both comfortable doing so.
- Stay aware of their response: It’s important not to over-stimulate the person. Be mindful of their mood, emotions, and movements. If they have a negative reaction to a particular song, skip to the next one.
- Setting the tone: Music can set the mood. To help motivate or energize the person, try something more upbeat. Calming, relaxing music can be great for winding down in the evening or helping to decrease agitation or restlessness.
Although further research is needed to understand the complex ways in which music influences the brain, music as a therapeutic tool shows promise.
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