What better “medicine” than a “treatment” that has only
positive side effects and “therapy” that is actually enjoyable?
That is the “miracle of music” when applied with intention. Music
is shown to have the ability to help organize the brain; especially
vital to those who are afflicted with Alzheimer’s.
Usually after twenty minutes of
music, there are observable effects, such as singing, foot tapping,
and clapping. Studies have shown that the results of a musical
therapy session last for several hours afterward. Positive results
include elevated mood, increased socialization and appetite and
reduction in agitation. These benefits are attributed to the
stimulation the brain receives during a music therapy session, a
sort of “cognitive workout” inspiring us to coin the phrase, “What
exercise is to the body, music is to the brain.” The power of music
often inspires physical movement and can be used in combination to
encourage gentle exercise.
As speech, writing and
traditional forms of communication are compromised, music provides
an alternative means of maintaining a connection, thereby helping to
normalize interaction between caregiver and patient. Music used
therapeutically creates an environment where the patient can be
nurtured and cared for in a way that is safe, gentle and
appropriate. Music is central to maintaining human bonds when those
with dementia have lost the ability to initiate communication or to
The powers of music when focused
and used therapeutically are many. Critical to maintaining quality
of life for those with Alzheimer’s is management of emotions and
preserving the connection with others. Music is conducive to
keeping those connections strong as long as possible while helping
the participant to focus, increase awareness and orient to the
environment. A number of research studies have looked at music
therapy as an important adjunct to medical treatment and findings
suggest a possible link between the use of music and slowing the
progression of dementia.
From the rhythms of the
heartbeat experienced in the womb to the stirring sounds of a
marching band, rhythmic patterns and music surround us. Language
itself has a musical quality to it and from the beginning of
mankind, as expressed through chanting and drumming, resembled music
more closely than speech. Music is primal to life and expressed by
each of us every day whether through dancing to a favorite tune,
keeping rhythm with a pencil or remembering a special time when
hearing a forgotten melody. It is central to our lives and is
embedded in our culture, defining how we acknowledge milestones,
rites of passage and celebrations as well as providing comfort,
transformation and inspiration. Music links us to our world and
provides a pathway back to our past.
You don’t need to have any
special musical training to institute a therapeutic music program.
You will need to select appropriate music, however. This music
consists of familiar tunes from the 30s, 40s and 50s with more
contemporary music included, depending on the preference or age of
the participant. Before you invest in any CDs, check in your own
home for possible sources of music. Your local library is a good
source. Consider individual preferences and select music that is
singable and upbeat.
Steve Toll, a professional
musician and trainer, and his wife Linda Bareham, a writer and
researcher in the area of alternative therapies for seniors with
dementia, formed the company Prescription-Music. Mr. Toll is on the
Speaker’s Board for the National Alzheimer’s Association and trains
professional and family caregivers in the development of music
therapy programs where his intent is to spread the word of the
healing power of music for those afflicted with Alzheimer’s.
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