Music is something that I personally love and something I’m sure everyone has strong opinions on. That’s because music is so critically linked to the human experience that we can’t help but be moved by a favorite song, whether it be a classical piece from Bach, the heavy sax of Louis Armstrong, the wailing cries of raucous guitar work of Jimmy Hendrix, or whatever your favorite composer, band, artist, and genre happens to be. I know for even myself, being in my early-mid-late twenties, there are certain songs that just hit that sweet spot for me and bring up so many fond memories that I fall in love with the song all over again.
Now would you believe me if I told you that there is actually science behind the magic of these musical memories, and that it’s even a type of therapy for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients? If you said no, then you’d be wrong, because as it turns out the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America is a strong proponent of Music Therapy and even give a basic how-to on their website.
What is this Music Therapy? Well it’s surprisingly simple; it consists of playing a song for Alzheimer’s patients. Okay, it’s a little more complicated than just that. According to the American Music Therapy Association, “Music Therapy is an established health profession in which music is used within a therapeutic relationship to address physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals.” Again I feel the need to reiterate that it’s more complicated than just putting on an old 45, despite how it would seem that’s all that is necessary at a glance.
Music can evoke all sorts of emotions and memories from the listener, and taking this into consideration, you want to put on the right song. For Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, it is advised that you find a nice song with a decent tempo that they were familiar with between the ages of 18 and 25. But more complex than that is how they are familiar with the song. Does it remind them of dancing the night away looking into their wife or husband’s eyes to the song, or did they first hear it while under stress or pressure. I could go on listing the various possible interactions, but I think you all get the gist, how the patient knows the music affects their reaction to the music, and you always want that reaction to be positive (so don’t go playing your favorite death metal song for Grandma, kiddo).
It is important to note that Music Therapy is recognized as a part of the medical field, and there are those who study to become trained practitioners. But, when you have a family member with Alzheimer’s Disease and no immediate access to professional care, you have to do anything that can help. If dusting off an old tune from Bing Crosby can bring a smile to their face or get them moving or actually singing, then it was time well spent.