Above: Jim Donovan Drumming with family and person with Alzheimer's
As we age, concerns about brain health and cognitive decline naturally arise. While the onset of conditions like Alzheimer's and dementia can be concerning, there's hope and healing in unexpected places.
One such place is within the realm of music. Here, we explore seven benefits of interactive music activities for individuals with Alzheimer's and dementia.
Research has shown that music can stimulate parts of the brain associated with memory, even in individuals with severe Alzheimer's. A study published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease found that music therapy can help recall autobiographical memories, often leading to conversations and social interaction.
Activity Idea: Create a personalized playlist of songs from the individual's youth and early adulthood. Play these songs and engage them in a conversation about memories associated with each song.
Music can evoke emotions in individuals with Alzheimer's and dementia, leading to improvements in mood and overall emotional well-being. A study in the eClinicalMedicine found that music therapy significantly reduced anxiety and depressive symptoms among older adults with dementia.
Activity Idea: Host a weekly sing-along session, choosing songs that are familiar and comforting. The act of singing can evoke positive emotions and reduce feelings of stress.
Music activities often involve dancing, singing, and playing instruments, which can stimulate social interaction. A study in the SAGE journal found that group music therapy led to increased social engagement in people with Alzheimer's.
Activity Idea: Organize a group drumming circle. Using hand drums or simple percussion instruments, this activity encourages participation, interaction, and a sense of community.
Research from Alzheimers Research and Therapy journal the there is an improvement in cognitive functions after music therapy application. A greater effect was shown when patients are involved in the music making when using active music intervention.
Activity Idea: Introduce rhythmic activities, like clapping or tapping to a beat. This simple activity stimulates the brain as individuals work to synchronize their actions with the rhythm.
Interactive music activities often involve movement, such as dancing or playing an instrument, which can enhance physical activity and coordination. A study in the The Gerontologist journal found that music-based exercise programs led to improvements in physical function in older adults with dementia.
Activity Idea: Initiate a dance movement therapy session, guiding participants to express themselves through movement. Even simple swaying to the music can enhance coordination and balance.
Vocalization activities like singing and chanting been shown to mitigate the challenging effects of chronic stress on cognition, reverse memory loss, and create psychological wellbeing, which may reduce multiple drivers of Alzheimer's disease risk.
Activity Idea: Introduce "Kirtan Kriya meditation, call-and-response singing or vocal toning. Sing a line of a song and encourage the individual to sing it back. This can aid in speech fluency and confidence.
Research suggests that music can also help to alleviate pain and discomfort among individuals with Alzheimer's and dementia.
A study in Alzheimers Research and Therapy journal examined the effects of singing versus painting on 50 AD patients over a period of 12 weeks. Results showed that both therapies elicited benefits in reducing depression, anxiety, and pain. The only advantage that the singing group had over the painting group is the stabilization of verbal memory
Activity Idea: Guided Imagery with Instrumental Soundscapes: Pair soft, soothing music with a guided imagery session. The listener is encouraged to visualize serene settings, like a beach at sunset or a tranquil forest. This combined approach can divert attention from pain and anchor the individual in the calming scene set by the music and imagery.
Embracing music is not just about enjoying melodious tunes. For those with Alzheimer's and dementia, interactive music activities can be a source of comfort, stimulation, and connection. Whether you’re a caregiver or someone keen on brain health, integrating music into the daily routine can offer a harmonious blend of therapeutic and soulful benefits.
How does music help Alzheimer's and dementia patients with memory recall?
Can music really enhance mood in Alzheimer's patients?
How does music encourage social interaction among these patients?
Does music therapy have any cognitive benefits?
How can music activities improve physical coordination?
Can music help in improving speech and vocalization for Alzheimer's patients?
How does music play a role in pain reduction for Alzheimer's and dementia patients?
Is there any advantage of singing over other therapeutic activities like painting for Alzheimer's patients?
What are some simple music-based activities to introduce to individuals with Alzheimer's or dementia?
Why should caregivers consider integrating music into the daily routine of Alzheimer's patients?
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About the author:
Jim Donovan M.Ed. is a multi-platinum musician, educator and TEDx speaker.
His mission is to share the restorative power of music through education and performance.
Donovan is an Assistant Professor and Director of Music and Wellness at Saint Francis University.
His viral TEDx Talk "How to Trick Your Brain Into Falling Asleep" has been viewed over 6 million times to date.
He currently performs with his band The Sun King Warriors who can best described as as a blend of rhythm heavy roots rock, with a strong dose of big barreling drums.
Jim Donovan got his start as a founding member of the multi-platinum selling band Rusted Root.
There he co-wrote the song “Send Me on My Way” featured in the movies "Ice Age", "Matilda" and the Netflix series "New Girl".
During his time with the band 1990-2005, he recorded and released seven full length albums. Including "When I Woke" (3x platinum).
He also had the honor of sharing the stage with many of his musical influences and heroes including Robert Plant and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin (1995 US/UK tour), Carlos Santana (1997/2002 US tour), The Allman Brothers Band (1995/96 US tour), The Grateful Dead (1995 Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, PA) and many others.
Send Me On My Way also became the first song on Mars where it “woke up” NASA’s Mars Rover.