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Published on: February 25, 2012
by Alice Sawyer for My Plain View:
Have you ever thought about the role music plays in our world? Music breaks down cultural and linguistic barriers, it crosses social and economic lines, and it bridges generations. Music has been described as the universal language since it can unite people like nothing else can.
Music has the uncanny ability to trigger any emotion — happiness, sadness, fear, anxiety or loneliness, and it can change your mood almost instantly. It can put a smile on your face or tears in your eyes. It can temporarily lift a person from a depressed state of mind.
Music, and more specifically music therapy, can play an important part in the treatment of rehabilitating and improving the lives of patients with emotional, spiritual, social and psychological needs. It can provide an effective and enjoyable means for the maintenance and improvement of cognitive, physical and socio-emotional functioning.
For most people music was one of life’s earliest experiences and in the autumn years of life musical memories remain as some of the most deep-rooted. As a result, music therapy is a valuable therapeutic tool in the treatment of patients with dementia.
Early in my career I worked as a social and activities director in a nursing home where I witnessed first-hand the positive effects that music therapy had on many of our residents. Once a week a licensed music therapist would come to the home to lead a 30-minute music therapy session. It was amazing to watch even the most lethargic and disoriented patients respond to her music. Some would be tapping their toes while others would be awkwardly swaying to the music in their invalid chairs, and a few would actually be singing along with the music therapist as she sang familiar songs that they recognized from their earlier years.
Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, affects about 4 million Americans each year. As baby boomers age that number is expected to increase significantly. The dreaded disease creeps into one’s life like fog and starts consuming short-term memory. It’s thought by some researchers that earlier memories remain intact, and music aids in recall and stimulates those early memories. Providing music that is related to the patient’s religious and cultural backgrounds is especially valuable when working with these patients. Researchers aren’t sure why music has this kind of effect, but they have proven it works.
Music therapy won’t cure Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia, but it can put a song in the person’s heart and a smile on their face. It can serve as a means of communication, foster a sense of belonging and security, and more importantly, music can enhance the overall quality of life.
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