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Music Therapy for Alzheimer’s

September 17, 2018

Alzheimer’s Disease has quickly become the most prevalent form of dementia in the world. Ranked as the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S., this crippling disease has become a focus in the medical field. Many of the available treatments focus on treating the symptoms since there is still no known cure for this devastating disease. Recently, there has been a greater push for non-traditional, non-medicinal forms of treatment. Music therapy, which has been used as a treatment for a variety of illnesses off and on for hundreds of years, has risen to the top of the list of non-traditional treatments that are making a positive impact on the quality of life for those suffering from Alzheimer’s. Music therapy, as defined by the World Federation of Music Therapy, is “the use of music and /or its musical elements (sound, rhythm, melody and harmony) by a qualified music therapist, with a client or group, in a process designed to facilitate and promote communication, relationships, learning, mobilization, expression, organization and other relevant therapeutic objectives in order to meet physical, emotional, mental, social and cognitive needs” (Guetin et al., 2013, p. 621). But what does that mean on a more practical level? Music therapy can be broken down into two fundamental methods: active and receptive. Active music therapy engages the patient through involvement. Patients are encouraged to sing, dance, play instruments or tap to the beat. Alzheimer’s often has a negative effect on the verbal skills of patients, even in the beginning stages. As such, active music therapy provides an outlet for patients to continue self-expression. This can alleviate feelings of isolation, prompt creativity, and enhance self-image. The use of rhythm-based exercises has been shown to allow patients to maintain a certain level of mobility and coordination. Playing instruments can help patients improve fine and gross motor skills. Conversely, the receptive method is much more passive. Patients listen to various forms of music designed to elicit a positive response. The three most popular approaches to receptive music therapy are analytical, reminiscent and relaxation. The analytical approach involves evaluations of the patient before and after they listen to certain songs. The reminiscent approach focuses on the playing of familiar songs aimed to improve both short and long-term memory. The relaxation technique is designed to provide a calming environment for the patient and to alleviate feelings of anxiety, depression and pain. If you are interested in learning more about music therapy and the possible benefits for yourself or a loved one, we encourage you to reach out to your primary care physician to find a registered music therapist near you. You can also ask your Oasis Senior Advisor to learn about facilities with licensed music therapists on staff.