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Perspectives on Music Therapy in Dementia Care

Thank you to our guest blogger Brittany Scheer, MA, MT-BC from Living Music LLC for writing Perspectives on Music Therapy in Dementia Care! 

Dementia Disorders Worldwide

Dementia Disorders currently make up one of the largest health care epidemics in the world. There are 50 million people worldwide with a dementia disorder (Alzheimer’s being the largest type). By the year 2050, it is expected that number will triple. Current estimated costs to society are 818 billion dollars, and the 2030 estimate cost is $2 trillion.  Families and friends provide most of the care to their loved ones suffering from this difficult disease. The symptoms of dementia include:

  • Confusion,
  • Difficulties/changes in everyday tasks,
  • Memory loss,
  • Changes in mood/behavior,
  • Changes in physical capabilities such as walking, chewing, and swallowing.

Music Therapy in Dementia Care

As a reminder, music therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program (American Music Therapy Association).  Music therapy is becoming a mainstream treatment for people with dementia disorders due to the flexibility, viability, and value music experiences can provide to clients, their families and caregivers.

Music Experiences

I have been providing music therapy in dementia care for over 10 years, and the power of music still amazes me.  But more so, the power of music therapy amazes me. When a person has the chance to be in a musical experience–to create and guide the musical experience, “magical” things can happen. (The music therapy and music/neuroscience literature show that it is not “magic”, but significant changes in the human brain and body that happen). Music therapy experiences provide:

 

  • The opportunity for memories and emotions to be felt and heard in a supportive way.
  • The opportunity for families to do something meaningful together, in the present moment, and express more than words can say.
  • An aesthetic way of taking part in music-a way of taking part in music that is innate, personalized, and soulful.

 

 

 

As a music therapist, my sessions have included people singing when they can “no longer” speak; smiling when they can “no longer” smile; accepting a blood draw when they refused the five times before without a music therapist present; learning a new song and remembering it week to week when they cannot remember what was for lunch that day; acknowledging their child/spouse and suddenly speaking their heart and mind; and people showing such an increase in relaxation that they did not need the anxiety medications from the nursing staff.

Clinical Experience

My first experience with providing music therapy services with a person with dementia was unforgettable. It was one of those moments in music therapy where the magic happened, where amazing responses happened that significantly changed the lives of several people, me being one of them. I was in one of my practicum training sessions, providing individual music therapy to a 90-year-old woman. She was a calm, pleasant person, who typically held a doll baby and rocked it.

Her family told me she hadn’t said many words or phrases for quite some time. I would play my guitar and sing older folk songs like “You are My Sunshine” and “Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue”. I remember that she would look at me much of the session and rock her baby doll. Once, I handed her a set of bongo drums, and demonstrated how to tap the drumheads, and she began to hold them like a baby, and rock them too. This was a bittersweet learning experience for me, as I then did not encourage her to play the drums, but validated her rocking them while continuing to sing songs and share that experience with her.

Thanks to Living Music LLC for sponsoring this post! At Living Music LLC, they are dedicated to providing quality music therapy and wellness services to New Bremen and the surrounding communities. They are passionate about helping individuals live their music, contact them for a free consultation! 

Connection

After several weeks of seeing her in music therapy, we had a very special session. I’ll never forget it-as this was the first time I really witnessed the amazing power and benefit of music on memories, emotions, and connections. I was singing “You are my Sunshine” as I always did, but this day, she sang along with me. She sang while looking at me, engaging in eye contact. She sang one phrase of the song, but she SANG! Following, she continued to rock her baby doll, calmly connecting to that baby, and smiling at me. It is still so vivid in my mind.

Later her family thanked me, they were beyond grateful to hear that she had sung with me and had this experience. They could hardly believe she had sung with me, but loved hearing that she had. It was a gift to them-to know that she had some beautiful connection and time-oriented experience. That just for a moment, she was fully present with another, sharing the same experience, identifying a commonality, and feeling what was most likely love and joy.

Music therapy is important and I believe, a necessity for people with dementia. Music speaks to the soul, and music therapy in dementia care can allow that soul to sing—to express—to feel—and to be heard.

References:

World Health Organization-Dementia Fact Sheet

American Music Therapy Association

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