The power of music for people living with Alzheimer's

Barchester is dedicated to offering various types of extremely high quality care. Among them, dementia care. Many wrongly assume that Alzheimer’s and dementia are interchangeable terms. However, dementia is actually considered as an umbrella term for a varied set of symptoms. Alzheimer’s is a very specific form of dementia and those living with it experience impaired thought, impaired speech, and confusion. We know how challenging this disease can be, both for those living with the disease and families. And while it is irreversible, new ways are always being sought to help alleviate the symptoms. Among these is music therapy – something we are proud to provide in our homes. We’re sharing the fantastic ways in which music can give respite to those living with this difficult disease.

Why is music so powerful for those living with Alzheimer's?

Research has shown that even in the later stages of the debilitating disease, music can be extremely powerful and moving for those living with Alzheimer's. It can help to improve mood, reduce stress-induced agitation, encourage positive interactions and facilitate cognitive functions. How can music be so powerful? Professor Paul Robertson of the Music Research Institute has investigated the influence of music on those living with dementia. He highlights that the auditory system of the human brain is the first system to fully function after only 16 weeks. This means we’re exposed to sounds and music before anything else in our early lives. He reports that the breakdown of memory associated with dementia works on a ‘first in, last out’ basis, explaining why music can be positively received by those living with Alzheimer’s even in the later stages.

Music can bring back long-forgotten memories

Music has the ability to evoke emotion, and therefore long-forgotten associated memories in those living with Alzheimer’s at all stages. In the powerful US documentary ‘Alive Inside’, celebrated neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks notes that “music imprints itself on the brain deeper than any other human experience”. Music therapy is therefore able to reach parts of the damaged brain which normal communication cannot. Professor Robertson recalls playing the piano for a former church organist living with advanced dementia. She could no longer speak but when someone started singing a hymn, she amazingly sat down and was able to accompany the singer perfectly. And there have been similar occurrences with patients remembering the words to their favourite songs.

Not to mention, when music therapy is paired with normal day-to-day activities, sufferers may be able to develop a specific rhythm which helps them to remember doing that particular activity. This in turn, has the ability to improve cognitive function over a period of time.

Exploring music therapy

Our well-trained staff within our Memory Lane communities at Barchester and our music specialists, led by the fantastic Stuart Wood PhD, would be more than happy to help you in any way when it comes to exploring the benefits of music therapy. Get in touch with us to find out more and hear about the fantastic ways in which music can offer relief to those living with Alzheimer’s and others in the later stages of life.