In the UK, the number of people living with dementia is expected to be around 1 million and due to an ageing population, this number is only expected to soar.
However, as there is currently no cure, more ways to alleviate the symptoms are becoming apparent.
Music is shown to have a dramatic effect on those living with dementia. It can soothe, stimulate and bring back long-forgotten memories, particularly if a piece of music or a tune can remind us of past experiences.
We can respond to music from a very early age, before words and languages are developed in our brains. This can then continue when we lose our verbal abilities and/or are nearing the end of our lives.
Listening to music can improve general attention, thinking, memory, speech and communication skills. It has also been shown to reduce agitation and depression in some people.
How Can You or Your loved One Benefit from Music?
Studies have shown that music memory is hardwired into the brain and seems to reach the parts of the damaged brain that other forms of communication cannot.
The music that you benefit from should be specifically tailored to the individual and whoever is benefiting from the music should be able to express their preferences. Choice is important with people living with dementia and this still stands when choosing music.
There are a number of initiatives and specifically curated playlists that may help those living with dementia. This can facilitate sharing and positive interactions as well as rekindling distant memories.
- Listen to a favourite piece of music
- Join a singing group or choir
- Play an instrument
- Go to or listen to a live performance
In terms of prevention, there is evidence that learning to play a musical instrument later in life does actually hone your motor skills and could contribute to preventing dementia. In the US, a study of twins showed that after taking other variables into account, those who learnt to play an instrument later on were a third less likely to develop dementia.
What Should You Be Aware Of?
There are a number of things to be aware of when talking about how music can help those with dementia. Simply putting music on in the background can be over stimulating and often distressing for the person living with dementia. Start with gentle quiet music where possible and involve the person on their own terms.
Furthermore, it is important to note that whilst music can often trigger memories, they may not always be positive ones. If you are playing music for someone living with dementia, you must watch how they react and stop if there are any signs of distress.
Singing for the Brain
Singing for the Brain is run by the Alzheimer’s Society and operates in 30 locations nationwide. It aims to boost confidence, quality of life and self-esteem by involving people living with dementia and their carers with interactive singing sessions. They also do fun vocal exercises that help improve brain activity and wellbeing.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Alzheimer’s Society are offering a virtual Singing for the Brain service – either over Zoom or over the phone.
To find out more about how we can help your or your loved one who may be living with dementia or Alzheimer’s, contact us today.