Music Therapy and Alzheimer's
Alzheimer’s was first identified in 1901 but was first publicly recorded in 1906. Alzheimer’s, or senile dementia, is a disease that develops over one’s lifetime and results in the weakening of numerous brain functions, including memory. A more expanded history of Alzheimer’s can be found here.
Alzheimer’s develops when amyloid beta, which is released during brain synapses, collects in the brain to the point where the janitor cells of the brain go into overdrive mode in order to remove it. In doing so, the janitor cells release numerous chemicals which end up damaging other brain functions. More information can be found at this TED Talk by Lisa Genova.
There have ben 5 drugs developed to treat Alzheimer’s. However none of them provide a real cure. This lack of cure has led to an increased focus on increasing the quality of life of Alzheimer’s patients. Some information on helping relatives and friends with Alzheimer’s can be found on the Mayo Clinic website. Research has shown that Alzheimer’s, while destroying most memories, does not affect the memories of music. Because of this, patients are often able to remember different songs and the lyrics to these songs regardless of their condition. Listening or singing along with these songs can provide both emotional and behavioral benefits for Alzheimer’s patients. Further research has shown that listening to music during Alzheimer’s treatment can help reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and agitation.
Along with these benefits, music also helps improve patients’ focus, ability to communicate, and can reduce their dependance on drugs. Alzheimer’s happens in stages and music has the greatest impact on those with late stage Alzheimer’s. During the later stages of Alzheimer’s, patients start losing awareness of their surroundings and may stop communicating with those around them. During these stages, there is often a visible reaction to music such as clapping their hands, singing, or even dancing. Researchers attribute this to the fact that music triggers multiple parts of the brain at once. A part of the brain stores musical memories along with the emotions experienced with that music. This explains why different people have different reactions to the same piece of music. The difference in emotions is most likely based on past experiences with the song. Music associated with positive memories would obviously lead to more positive reactions while music linked with negative experiences could lead to potential anxiety and distress. Research has shown that music the patient enjoyed from the ages of 18 to 25 result in the most positive reaction however music taste changes so it is not guaranteed to produce a positive reaction. A more in depth explanation can be found on the Arbor Company’s website here. Wrapping it all up, while Alzheimer’s does not have a cure at the moment, it is still possible to help make a patient’s life more enjoyable and better overall by using music therapy.