The Power of Music in Fighting Alzheimer’s Symptoms

By word in black

There’s no doubt that at some point in your life, you’ve had a song melody stuck in your head.

Maybe you were at a family reunion and The Wiz was on TV. Or maybe you were cleaning your car and found an old tape.

Studies show that music is also a powerful tool in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Indeed, certain parts of the brain in which musical memory is stored are not affected by Alzheimer’s disease.

“I’ve seen old people in a certain state of dementia, but when they sit in front of the instrument, they can play,” said Kenneth Thompkins, principal trombone of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Throughout his career, he has experienced the influence of music on performers and their audiences. Classical music in particular, he said, has a way of transcending language, time and space to reach the heart.

“Having the direct experience of going to a live show and hearing an ensemble — 80 to 100 people playing acoustically — is very, very powerful. Just looking at it is powerful.

In 2021, legendary singer Tony Bennett opened up about his battle with Alzheimer’s disease. Amid his public battle with the disease, the 95-year-old performed with Lady Gaga at Radio City Music Hall.

“He got up there and did it because it was his life. That’s what he’s done forever,” Thompkins said. “It’s part of the memory. It’s hard-wired, at this point, into his brain.

Researcher Deepa Rajan was curious about the relationship between music and memory. So she conducted a short-term clinical study in a nursing home with the help of a licensed music therapist.

Several studies show that using music is a great way to fight Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. (Photo by Enrique Vidal Flores on Unsplash)

“People who couldn’t even remember the names of their sons and daughters could suddenly remember the words to a song they hadn’t heard in decades,” she recalls.

In a TEDx talk, she explains that there are two forms of music therapy that can help people with Alzheimer’s symptoms: active therapy and receptive therapy.

Active music therapy encourages performance. She is involved and stimulating. You experience it in a nursing home or adult daycare, or even on television. Receptive music therapy, on the other hand, is more individualized and focused on classical music. Genres aside, music as a whole stimulates connection, encourages creativity and feeds the imagination.

If you’re looking to invite more music into your life as a caregiver or Alzheimer’s patient, there are free music enrichment services, such as San Bay-based Harmonies for the Elderly. Francisco, Tennessee-based Music for Seniors, and the AARP Virtual Community Center.

Your insurance can also cover tailor-made music therapy!

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