The benefits of music therapy for dementia are often widely varied. Patients may regain memories from their younger years, especially when listening to era-appropriate music. Dementia patients with problems communicating may find it easier to sing along to music, later transferring those patterns to the spoken word. Still other patients, whose mental deficiencies have caused loss of dexterity and muscle movement, may recover some motor function with music therapy.
Music has long been known as a medium for aiding memory recall. In fact, many people with perfectly healthy brains can often recall memories surrounding their favorite songs. The same often holds true with dementia patients. Patients exposed to their favorite music may begin remembering people and events associated with their pasts. These memories may help unlock neural pathways connected to more recent memories and events.
Dementia may take many forms, from memory loss to the loss of skills like speech. Patients with this form of dementia often find it difficult to articulate their thoughts and may avoid speaking to others. This reluctance to communicate usually only exacerbates the disease. One form of music therapy for dementia involves playing a patient’s favorite music and encouraging him or her to sing along. The therapist may sing a few words and then instruct the patient to repeat the phrase.
Eventually, the patient is asked to sing without the music. The therapist may then speak the words to the song in rhythm, prompting the patient to do the same. Using musical rhythms to restore speech patterns has a relatively high percentage of success. A few patients even sing along to the music without encouragement, sometimes leading to uninhibited conversation. The theory is that the patient is not concentrating on the difficulty of the task. Music therapy for dementia may help these patients feel more emotionally comfortable, giving them the confidence to talk and interact with those around them.
An elevated mood is a very important benefit of music therapy for dementia patients. These people are often depressed, owing to the fact that they can’t function the way they used to. By using music and memory recall, therapists help patients remember that they once performed enjoyable, and sometimes complicated, tasks. This may be especially important for restoring motor skills. Patients encouraged to walk or move to the beats of their favorite songs often recover faster than patients not exposed to music. Some treated with this kind of music therapy for dementia even remember and incorporate simple dance steps into their daily therapy.