How music brings dementia patients back to the present and helps them find their voice

Apr 10, 2024
Amid the challenges of navigating dementia, music emerges as a simple yet powerful tool for connection and comfort, offering moments of respite and joy amidst the struggles. Source: Getty Images,

In the battle against dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, a surprising ally has emerged: music.

Experts highlight music’s unique ability to stir emotions and memories that might otherwise remain dormant, offering solace to those affected by such conditions.

Registered Music Therapist and Managing Director of music therapy company Music Beat, Dr. Vicky Abad, highlights the profound impact of music.

“Music is a window into people’s pasts,” she said.

“It builds on strengths and abilities against a disease that can strip a person of their dignity, abilities and quality of life.”

Currently, over 420,000 Australians grapple with dementia, a number projected to double by 2054. At TriCare Aged Care and Retirement, staff witness firsthand the toll it takes on residents and their families.

Yet amid the difficulties, there are moments of brightness. Residents respond remarkably to music, with many experiencing noticeable changes in mood and demeanour when familiar tunes play.

Residents such as Louis Rose at TriCare Upper Mt Gravatt Aged Care find comfort in music amidst the challenges of dementia.

Despite requiring assistance with most tasks, Rose cherishes the moments of relaxation and escape music provides.

“I grew up in Mauritius and while we didn’t have a lot, we certainly had music. Listening to music has always been an escape for me and a way to relax,” Rose said.

“When your brain starts to slow down and you find yourself forgetting things, it can be quite frustrating and confusing.

“Listening to music has been a way to distract myself from what’s going on in my head, it has helped me so much.”

Live music performer Tamsin Sutherland regularly witnesses the transformative effects of music on residents, particularly during her performances featuring nostalgic tunes at TriCare facilities across Queensland.

The Star Powers Production staffer highlights the joy of seeing non-verbal residents ‘come alive’ when they engage with music, describing it as a deeply emotional experience.

“I perform several different shows, each one different from the next, so no matter who’s in the audience, they’re always getting something new,” Sutherland explained.

“My one-woman shows include songs and dances from old movies that are familiar and nostalgic to residents.

“It’s all about getting them involved by featuring music from an era they know and love.

“Watching residents who are often non-verbal sing along to the words is incredible. It really is like they are coming back to life and reconnecting with who they once were. To be part of that is quite emotional for me.”

Dr. Abad also notes the role of music in preventing restless behaviour, particularly during the late afternoon, a time often associated with increased agitation in dementia patients.

“Sundowning usually occurs in the late afternoon as dusk approaches, a time that is also associated with what used to be a busy time period in people’s lives,” Dr. Abad noted.

“Personalised music is a simple and effective tool to help residents feel validated in their emotions during this time and provides them an opportunity to experience a calmer state of mind”.

Amid the challenges of navigating dementia, music emerges as a simple yet powerful tool for connection and comfort, offering moments of respite and joy amidst the struggles.


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