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Music and Dementia: Evoking Memories and Enhancing Mood

According to Dementia UK, there are over 850,000 people who are living with dementia in the UK at the moment, and this number is set to rise to over a million in the next few years. It is a progressive condition which affects the brain, especially as people get older. Dementia is a term that umbrellas over 200 different ‘sub-types’ of conditions, of which Alzheimer’s disease is the most common.

Dementia occurs when the neurons (or brain nerve cells) in the brain are damaged and messages cannot be effectively sent or received. This then affects the rest of the body, especially the brain, but presenting itself in different ways in each person.

Depending on the kind of dementia that the person is suffering from, as well as their own personal circumstances, some of the symptoms of dementia include:

  • Short term memory loss but the ability to remember things from the past
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty with speech
  • Finding decision making difficult
  • Tremors
  • Shuffling
  • Disruptive sleep
  • Hallucinations

These symptoms can make sufferers of dementia feel isolated from society, confused and can also lead to low mood and anxiety.

How can Music Help with Dementia?

The benefits of music – both in a ‘therapy’ sense and a more casual way are obvious to a lot of people. We’ve all felt the emotion of a romantic song or been uplifted and felt the urge to dance with a disco tune!

However, it is only relatively recently that music is being taken more seriously as a way to help people who are suffering from dementia.

According to Helping Hands, “the influence of music can work towards ‘unlocking’ memories and reaching parts of the brain which other forms of communication cannot”.

This means that people who suffer from the isolation of limited communication can still feel part of something and part of a group.

Listening to music together with other people can help people with dementia to participate in a shared experience with friends, family, carers, loved ones and even strangers – something which is difficult to do normally, and which can boost self-esteem and help to lift the weight of depression.

Help with Communication

For people who struggle to communicate through speech, music can offer a fantastic opportunity to communicate feelings and emotions. It uses a different part of the brain to speech – and this means that some people who cannot speak are still able to sing, hum or play musical instruments. This can relieve frustration and help people to communicate how they are feeling at any given time and feel connected.

Playing with a group is also highly rewarding for anyone. So, to be able to play music or sing along with other people, self-esteem can be boosted, and a person can get a lift through being part of something.

 

Stress Hormones

Research suggests that music can help to reduce the levels of stress hormones. Whether it is by listening, playing or even dancing, the old saying that ‘music is good for the soul’ is true. It is accessible to absolutely everyone and can be more beneficial than we thought for people with dementia.

Music Evoking Memories

Research shows that people with dementia can recognise music that they heard years ago. This gives people the opportunity to bring back happy memories which can give comfort and pleasure to people suffering from dementia.

Being able to bring back memories of a wedding day, evenings out dancing or even a song that someone used to sing can not only give pleasure at the time but also be useful in helping people with low mood and anxiety.

Physical

Another benefit to dancing or playing music is that it can help people to keep moving physically. Just beating a drum or tapping a foot can be helpful to keep people moving – often without even realising that they are doing so!

One of the best things about music is that it is for everyone. From before a baby comes out of the womb, they hear music, and it accompanies us throughout our lives. There is music involved in almost every occasion in our lives, and its impact on us emotionally can be huge. It’s not surprising therefore that as we get further into life, music can continue to have such a strong impact.

For people who are suffering from dementia, music can be one of the best drugs that they can be given. It can help with communication, boost self-esteem, give joy in general and help them to improve their quality of life whilst trying to deal with a life debilitating condition like dementia.


To find out more about Dementia visit, Alzheimer’s Society.

Written by Ella Hendrix

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