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The Benefits of Music for Dementia Patients

Music is an important part of life. When we hear a song, we can frequently be reminded of a certain place, or a particular time in our lives. Often, we feel as though we have literally been taken back to that place for just a second and we can remember exactly how we felt and who we were at that time. It this ability to relive our past through music which allows song to play a fundamental role within the life of someone who has dementia.

The total number of people with dementia in the UK is constantly rising as our life expectancy grows. It is predicted that there will be in excess of 1 million people living with dementia by 2021. Because of the large scale of the condition, ways to alleviate symptoms are becoming more valuable by the day.

A recent study shows that dementia patients can ‘recall memories and emotions, and have enhanced mental performance after singing classic hits and show tunes from movies and musicals’. (
The favourite songs from these musicals and shows are able to reach deep memories not lost to dementia and can enable participants to feel like themselves again.

Neurologist Oliver Sacks says that, “Music evokes emotion, and emotion can bring with it memory… it brings back the feeling of life when nothing else can.” So just as singing can allow participants to gain the ability to converse, by pairing music with every day activities, patients can develop a rhythm to recall daily tasks and improve their cognitive ability over time.

Michael Campari has undertaken the task of re-writing and recording familiar songs to aid this ‘rhythm to recall’ process. For instance, Michael has adapted the very well know Frank Sinatra’s “Come Fly With Me” to include new messages, such as “It’s time to make a cup of tea”. The use of music and songs such as this can therefore be seen to act as reminder to carry out the little things, which for people with dementia may become a large task and struggle.

In the later stages of dementia, patients often lose the ability to share emotions. This can sometimes be difficult for caregivers and especially for family members. However, music has the ability to bring back an emotional and physical closeness. The act of dancing can often lead to hugging and kissing, providing loved ones with a closeness they otherwise would not be able to have and providing the patient with a reminder that they have people who care for them. Music in this sense is highly important within the care of a dementia patient, as it allows a bond to be shared once more, if only for a brief period.

‘We tend to remain contactable as musical beings on some level right up to the very end of life,’ says Professor Paul Robertson, a concert violinist and academic who has made a study of music in dementia care. This is supported by Linda Maguire, a leading author on the subject, who states that ‘musical aptitude and appreciation are two of the last remaining abilities in dementia patients.’ It is therefore important that music should be used to order to reach parts of the damaged brain in ways other forms of communication cannot and allow an otherwise lost connection to the patients past self to be made.

So, whether it’s 60s soul, opera or songs from the movies, music can soothe patients, stimulate the mind and bring our thoughts back to long-forgotten memories. It is a pleasant thing for all individuals, but it is a necessity to those who have no other way to connect with their carers, family, past and self. Music is enjoyable for all and for those with dementia, music is a way to combat an illness.