Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Dementia and the power of music

We all have our favorite song that we attach to certain significant moments of our lives and even historic moments, literally. You know when we say, "I'm going to put some music on to set the mood" that is exactly what we are doing when we decide to put music on for a person affected with Alzheimer's or other dementias. We are setting the mood!
I'm always amazed by the power of music over our emotions. About two weeks ago we put earphones on a non-verbal patient that is in a stage where her cognitive abilities are severely compromised. Her ability to engage in any activities are none existing. The activities coordinator for the memory care unit came up with the idea to use music as a tool for her to have some sort of stimulation and engagement, as she sits in a recliner most of the day. She chose Aretha for her, oh my! after listening to the music for 15 minutes, the patient started muttering a few of the lyrics to the song. It was amazing. If it wasn't for her mobility issues, I would bet that she would have stood up and danced if it was possible.

I also clearly remember a situation in my previous job with a male resident that was diagnosed with FTD(frontal temporal dementia) he had severe hallucinations and his peripheral vision was very limited. He was such a sweet and gentle soul, as the activities director in that job I was in charge of booking entertainment. I had booked a Mexican folk dance troop. The whole 45 minutes of their performance I kept my eye on this particular patient, I was concerned that he would have a meltdown, or start hallucinations, so I kept a close eye on him throughout the whole performance he never once looked at the dancers, the whole time he kept his sight straight ahead, not moving his head at all. The dancers left and everything went back to normal. When his wife picked him up, he greeted her with the biggest smile and said to her, "you missed it! the kids where terrific, the music was great!" the whole time, I didn't think he cared for the dancers, I was very wrong.  

The next day the wife came in and told us how he had been in a very good mood for the rest of the day. How he didn't stop talking about the dancers and the music and how much he had enjoyed it. The reason that the folk dancers and their music had a huge impact on his day and his mood, was because it reminded him of his honeymoon and how they spent it in Acapulco. Incredibly enough the mood lasted for a few days. I used music as a tool constantly in my previous job, as a matter of fact, I still do, even though I'm not 100% involved in the memory care unit.       

You have to be careful though, always pay attention to the likes of the person or the group that you are working with. Being careful with overstimulation. Music can be used to change moods, put on songs that are familiar to them, and listen to them sing, see their faces light up. I can't tell you how many times I've heard the songs, bicycle built for two, blackbird, or you are my sunshine! but if it's going to put one of my patients in a good mood, guess what? I'm putting that song on! Music has the power to relieve stress, reduce anxiety, depression, and reduce agitation. 



Music can be utilized as a tool for caregivers as it can provide a way to connect with loved ones who have Alzheimer's disease especially those who have difficulty communicating. You can also help your loved one calm down during mealtime by playing soothing music. It may be used as part of the morning hygiene routine to soothe the situation and make it a pleasant experience.

Encourage movement, try a little clapping, movement of the feet, if they are able to stand up and their balance is not compromised, invite them to dance with you. Some studies suggest musical memory functions differently than other types of memory, and singing can help recall those unique memories buried deep in the brain. Keep an eye out for what is going on in the immediate surroundings, is it too noisy outside? can't seem to shut/block the outside noise out, it may not be a good idea to play music then. Is the television on? all of these extra distractions can be counter-productive if you are trying to calm them down.

I love music, I can always count on a good song to change my mood.  I hope these experiences are helpful to you and give you ideas on how to best help your loved one. 

We are on this bumpy road together, you are not alone!
Be prepared, Be informed, Be empowered.
I send you lots of virtual good vibes.