The Role of Music Therapy in Cognitive Impairment in Older Adult Patients

Music is a very instrumental part of human life because people of all ages and walks of life enjoy and relate to at least one or more genres of music. It is safe to say that music is a universal language that cuts across different boundaries. However, the value of music can be more than just the simple act of listening.

There have been many studies that suggest that music can make the mind move. For instance, Kimmo Lehtonen, a veteran clinical music therapist and a professor of education at the Finland’s University of Turku, firmly believes that music has a great impact on brain activity. Many therapists across the world use music therapy for dementia as a tool for promoting a sense of self and memory while treating patients and older adults.

Relationship between Music and Emotion

Several studies have found that music is very beneficial to patients and older adults because of its ability to evoke a sensation, feelings, and memories. That is why music therapy is a great tool for musical expression that therapists use to treat patients in a more purposeful and targeted way.

On the other hand, music is also known to correlate with the unconscious emotions, which are prevalent among patients with the condition. Music plays a pivotal role in activating such emotion through musical movement. Music has a way of relating to the inner feeling of these patients. These feelings are often so strong and can be very meaningful to patients, even though they may not entirely remember who they are.

There is Memory in Sound

This is why music therapy is especially vital for older adults with dementia, giving them the ability to communicate using alternative ways. Some individuals believe that music can function as an interpreter of the picture of the world as the patient sees it without necessarily having to connect with the patient through verbal interaction.

This is a largely degenerative condition, which means that patients suffering from it have a problem expressing their basic needs thus understanding them could prove to be very challenging. This, in most cases, leads to the isolation of these patients. That is why music therapists use the virtue of memory in sound to communicate with patients and help them live better with dementia. The communicative structure of music can interestingly regulate and stimulate the patients and even facilitate dialogue.

According to the director of music education and therapy at the University of Kansas, Ph.D. Alicia Ann Clair, listening and making music can help provide ways that dementia music players can actively employ their cognitive skills to help them avoid losing them. There are very many avenues and resources available to people of all ages including patients to become dementia music players to help them keep the cognitive skills afloat.

These skills are what are vital in facilitating the element of interaction and communication between patients and therapists, either in groups or individual settings. Just listening to music by sufferers can have a strong impact on their moods and to some extent their physiology. This could be the reason why certain songs make people, not just sufferers, vividly remember some memories. The memory and emotional aspect of sound are what make music a good tool to help sufferers live better with dementia because it is emotionally charged and it goes a long way in triggering both good and bad memories from the past.

The fact that music can trigger such memories is exactly why it is a great tool for communication for patients, which, in a way, helps renew their sense of identity. Patients may not exactly remember the words, but they will resonate with the rhythms and melodies, depending on how strong that memory is. The feelings they might portray while listening or singing certain songs are often more authentic and personal, and some can hardly remember their names. That is why it is a great tool for not only treating the condition but also preventing it in the first place. It is the memory in music that can help keep such patients active and happy.

Music and Physical Fitness

Sufferers need some form of physical exercise to boost their muscle memory, strength, bone density, and flexibility. Music therapy can be used to help such individuals to exercise. However, it should be noted that health care should be taken while selecting the music to use because not just any type of music can do the trick.

There are specific genres of music that can support different exercises like the force used, pace and repetitions. The right selection of music will make the exercise programs seem and feel more pleasant and shorter.

Benefits of Music Therapy among Patients

Since there is a clear relationship between music and the condition, there could be many ways that music can be used to manage or prevent the condition. The benefits of using music therapy include:

  • Starting the day on the right note: When patients start their day singing or listening to happy songs, they will easily dress up and go about their morning hygiene activities actively.
  • Helps with communication: For patients that have lost their ability to speak effectively, music therapy can help them to find a way to communicate their feelings using their favourite songs as they nod or clap to the rhythms. Engaging in sing-alongs can boost their level of social activity and can help them interact more.
  • Stimulating activity: When engaging in stimulating activities like exercises, music can be very instrumental in aiding their breathing and keeping them engaged because they can easily be distracted.
  • Breaking repetitive behaviour: Since some of these patients often portray repetitive behaviour, listening to a song the love can help the patient break way from some repetitive behaviour they have. It could be repeating an activity or motion or saying the same things over and over. This boosts mental health too.
  • Helping patients ease into nighttime routines: When patients listen to soft and calming music at night, they ease into the nighttime behaviour. Such songs create a serene environment that calms their thoughts and helps them sleep too.
  • Helping in shifting their moods and managing stress: When music therapy is used appropriately, it can go a long way in managing stress-induced agitation, shifting moods, improve cognitive functions, improving motor movements and stimulating positive interactions. All these contribute to the wellbeing of the mental health of the patient.

Bottom line

Even though there is still room for further studies on the benefits and efficacy of music therapy on individuals who are cognitively impaired, the available data clearly shows that it plays a very pivotal role in cognition and has some tremendous positive effects on such patients. 

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