Most Alzheimer’s patients do not lose this area of ​​memory

Viewers around the world were thrilled to see 95-year-old singer Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga perform together.

Tony Bennett has been suffering from dementia for the past few years, and it was exciting to see how on stage he was once again able to recognize Lady Gaga during her performance and call her name.

It was even more exciting to see him filled with joy and a sense of belonging. Despite his memory impairment, when the music began to play, the words came back to him and he moved with the sounds of the music and he was back to the performer he was.

The next day he didn’t remember the show at all.

This surprises many, but is in fact a very familiar phenomenon in the field of music and dementia research. Although the disease is widespread and produces extensive neurological impairment, the ability to remember music, sing and play is maintained even in the advanced stages of the disease. And, along with the music, other memories emerge.

It is a long and continuous process of memory loss, impaired judgment, and impaired daily functioning. Even routine activities, such as eating, leaving the house or taking a shower, can provoke resistance in Alzheimer’s patients and enormously challenge the caregiver. Furthermore, one of the main impaired functions in patients is verbal function, and they become speechless and unable to communicate.

This is where music comes into the picture.

Power of music

In music therapy, the therapist uses the power of music to allow contact and influence a variety of cognitive, emotional, and social functions. Research in the field of music therapy in people with dementia has been gaining momentum in the last two decades. Studies indicate the ability of musical intervention to reduce restlessness and depression, elicit a response from a patient in a passive state, foster memories, and allow contact without the use of words.

Music affects people with dementia in two seemingly contradictory ways: on the one hand, it can calm, help with restlessness, and reduce resistance to treatment. On the other hand, it can evoke a motor response, memories, and contact. Proper use of music and integration into the daily care routine can help ease the burden on primary caregivers.

Coping with the disease poses a complex challenge for the patient and their family, which is reflected in a heavy burden for caregivers. Caring for these patients is an intense, demanding and abrasive task, which often leads to situations of stress, depression and damage to the health and mental state of the caregivers.

Studies in the field have shown that one way to ease the burden is targeted training, which will make it easier for caregivers to cope with the daily challenges of treatment. Using music and singing as a tool in therapy allows such a response.

Various music training programs are being developed around the world for caregivers.

In Israel, a unique training program has been created at Amda, an organization that works for dementia patients, Alzheimer’s patients and their families, allowing specific training in the use of music as part of routine treatment. No professional background or special talent is needed. We all listen to music and can sing, even if we are very out of tune. The challenge is to turn music into a new language that allows communication with the patient.

(Credit: Ingimage)

Start from tranquility

Most of the time we do not realize it, but our environment is full of noise: the air conditioning is rumbling, the trucks are beeping or people are talking on the television. People with cognitive impairment find it more difficult to regulate these noises and also to interpret them. For example, screams from neighbors will be threatening, slamming the door will cause panic, and the news can be stressful. Therefore, it is advisable to start by neutralizing ambient noise and providing an environment that is as quiet as possible.

Customize the music

Studies suggest that the music that burns the most in our memory is the music of our youth, an emotionally and physiologically turbulent period in which we discover ourselves. Music plays an important emotional role at that time as part of the construction of our identity, so even if our tastes have improved over the years, it is the music that gives us energy, especially when there is a deterioration of the memory. It is amazing how people who have forgotten almost everything remember the lyrics and melody of songs that were sung together in a youth movement or around the campfire.

The use of music should be focused and goal-oriented: do we want to use it to calm or wake up?

Rhythmic music encourages movement and the performance of family dances from the past, such as tango for ballroom dancers or hora for graduates of the youth movement, will lead to movement and dance.

If we want to calm down before going to bed we will use quiet family music. It is important to use music as a preventative tool before the outbreak or difficulty, and not when the storm is at its peak. For example, you can sing to the patient for a few minutes before helping them shower and continue singing even during the shower, which can significantly change behavior, calm the person, and allow the patient to shower more easily.

The song has great power in itself.

Songs, and especially shared songs, are associated with closeness, warmth, and belonging, and are of great value in reducing restlessness. In addition, singing can foster a shared experience of remembering.

Connect together for memories

You can turn music into an event of proximity.

A shared tour of the family photo album, listening to music from that period, and a shared dance will evoke memories of the past. In cases where one spouse suffers from dementia, distance is often created and a joint dance becomes an experience of a company that helps bridge the gap and allows for a meaningful shared experience.

Living with and treating someone with Alzheimer’s disease poses many challenges. Music can become an important and useful tool in the routine of caring for patients and facilitating caregivers. It is a new language that takes time to acquire, but when the words end and communication is lost, the music remains, allows connection and brings back memories.

Dr. Ayelet Dassa is Senior Lecturer in the field of Music Therapy at Bar-Ilan University. This article was originally published by The Jerusalem Post’s sister website, Walla!

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