Dementia and Music: A Language of Compassion
“Music heals the wounds that medicine cannot touch.” – Debasish Mridha
Walking into the nursing home, my husband and I go mostly unnoticed. Feet shuffle by us without pause and faces are frozen in their expression. We feel like we’ve encountered an invisible wall standing between us and the facility’s residents. Even our smiles and small talk can’t seem to break through it.
My husband has brought his lap harp to play for his mother and fellow residents assembled in this advanced Alzheimer’s lockdown unit. We’re all gathered in a small room where the residents eat, watch television, and carry out their daily activities. Coloring books and crayons are strewn across the tables.
The first chords are plucked, and the wall I felt earlier shatters. Every set of eyes is fixated upon my husband’s hands. The Irish melodies he plays stir them in different ways: they sit up straighter, swaying with the changing notes. I feel a lifting—of air, of hope, of spirit. I am without a doubt witnessing some kind of healing.
Comfort in the Familiar
For a person with dementia, their internal worlds change in ways that often cause confusion, frustration, anger, depression, anxiety, and disconnection. It’s traumatic and scary. Reaching for the familiar soothes the soul. Just as a child holds onto their favorite teddy bear at night, dementia patients can hold onto one of the most primal human experiences and find comfort in a beautiful tune.
Science has uncovered exciting things regarding the power of music to aid those dealing with symptoms of dementia. Incredibly, our favorite songs can do more than just soothe.
With well-liked music playing in the background, it’s been shown that caregivers in nursing homes experience more cooperation and understanding from their dementia patients. https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.530.7591&rep=rep1&type=pdf
There is more to dementia than cognitive decline—the physical body, too, loses functionality as dementia conditions progress. It might seem strange that music can wield the kind of power that helps those with dementia swallow more easily, but it can! https://musicandmemory.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/%E2%80%9CMusic-Memory%E2%80%9D-and-improved-swallowing-in-advanced-dementia.pdf
Music therapy has been shown to decrease the need for anxiolytic and antipsychotic drugs in dementia patients. It’s amazing, really! https://www.ajgponline.org/article/S1064-7481(17)30285-3/abstract
Faster Stroke Recovery
Those who have experienced a stroke who listened to an hour of music everyday reap benefits in their recovery. Their ability to focus attention returns more quickly compared to those who didn’t experience the benefit of music while healing. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/music-and-health
Easing Our Paths with Music
Caring for someone who has dementia can be frustrating. Communication isn’t easy, and the emotional volatility that accompanies the condition preys upon even the most Zen-like among us. It is hard work being present for someone who inhabits their own insular world.
While dementia might put up its walls and try to prevent us from seeing each other, it can never win. Music softens everything it touches and tears down barriers to our hearts and minds.
On your next visit, consider building a playlist on your phone or on Spotify of your loved one’s favorite songs. It’s the little things that can make the biggest difference, and it’s one of our core values here at Care Connections at Home, LLC.
Please give us a call if you are interested in our services and we’ll have an honest discussion of your needs. Much like music, we don’t believe in walls.