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The Surprising Link Between Dementia and Music

Monday , May 10 , 2021

The Surprising Link Between Dementia and Music

Alzheimer’s Disease is a neurological disorder in which the death of brain cells causes memory loss and cognitive decline. Typically, symptoms start mild and get progressively worse over time. Eventually, Alzheimer’s patients will have difficulty remembering recent events or recognizing people they know, and their ability to reason will fade.

If this sounds stressful to you, it’s because it is. Those who have Alzheimer’s – and other forms of dementia – often experience severe anxiety and disorientation. But new research shows that listening to music may help.

5.7 Million Americans Live with Alzheimer’s Disease

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 5.7 million people in the United States live with Alzheimer’s Disease – about one in every six women and one in every ten men over 55. That number is expected to increase to 14 million diagnosed cases by 2050.

The first signs of the Disease often include:

  • Memory loss.
  • Poor judgment.
  • Taking longer than usual to complete daily tasks.
  • Losing or misplacing things.

Alzheimer’s progresses differently for each person, but ultimately everyone will have trouble with day-to-day decision making, self-care, and the use of language. Mood and personality changes are widespread, as are anxiety and aggression.

These changes aren’t just difficult for the patient but also for the people around them. Both caregivers and healthcare professionals are constantly trying to develop strategies to prevent or relieve the emotional distress experienced by their loved ones and patients.

One way of alleviating Alzheimer’s-related anxiety has consistently stood out as promising: Listening to music.

Can Music Help Someone with Alzheimer’s?

A 2017 study from The Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease looked at individuals with subjective cognitive decline and found that “music listening can significantly enhance both subjective memory function and objective cognitive performance in adults with SCD, and may offer promise for improving outcomes in this population.”

A more recent study from scientists at the University of Utah Health music can “tap into the salience network of the brain that is still relatively functioning.” 

The brain’s salience network is a collection of brain regions that select which stimuli are deserving of our attention. It contributes to many different functions, including communication, social behavior, and self-awareness.

According to study co-author Dr. Jeff Anderson, the team was interested in seeing how music might stimulate undamaged regions of this and other brain networks. Over three weeks, they assisted participants (17 people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease) in finding and selecting songs known and meaningful to them.

Using this information, the team created personalized playlists, which they loaded onto portable media players and instructed the participants and their caregivers on how to use them. The effects, they say, were astounding.

Music Stimulated Brain Activity

When the scientists performed MRI scans of the participants’ brains while listening to music from their playlists, they found that individual brain networks were stimulated. In addition, communication between separate networks was greater.

The affected areas of the brain included the visual network, salience network, and executive network.

“This is objective evidence from brain imaging,” says senior study author Dr. Norman Foster, “that shows personally meaningful music is an alternative route for communicating with patients who have Alzheimer’s disease.”

“Language and visual memory pathways are damaged early as the disease progresses,” he notes, “but personalized music programs can activate the brain, especially for patients who are losing contact with their environment.”

The Future of Music Therapy

Many people believe that music holds the key to stopping – or even reversing – Alzheimer’s-related cognitive decline. Still, despite the encouraging results of the University of Utah study, researchers warn against wishful thinking.

This particular study had a small pool of participants and unreplicated results. In addition, researchers were unable to track how long the positive effects of music listening could last.

Bottom line? More research is needed.

Using Music to Connect with Your Loved Ones

Even if we don’t know if or how we will use music to treat Alzheimer’s in the future, we know that it helps calm those who suffer. Listening to or singing songs can provide many emotional benefits to Alzheimer’s patients and those with other forms of dementia.

If you’d like to use music to help a loved one who has Alzheimer’s, consider these tips from the Mayo Clinic:

  • Think about your loved one’s preferences. What kind of music does your loved one enjoy? What music evokes memories of happy times in his or her life? Involve family and friends by asking them to suggest songs or make playlists.
  • Set the mood.To calm your loved one during mealtime or a morning hygiene routine, play music or sing a soothing song. When you’d like to boost your loved one’s mood, use more upbeat or faster-paced music.
  • Avoid overstimulation. When playing music, eliminate competing noises. Turn off the TV. Shut the door. Set the volume based on your loved one’s hearing ability.
  • Encourage movement. Help your loved one to clap along or tap his or her feet to the beat. If possible, consider dancing with your loved one.
  • Sing along. Singing along to music together with your loved one can boost the mood and enhance your relationship.
  • Pay attention to your loved one’s response. If your loved one seems to enjoy particular songs, play them often. If your loved one reacts negatively to a specific song or type of music, choose something else.

Keep in mind that music may have no effect because each Alzheimer’s patient is different. Still, it’s worth it to try!

Posted in: Dementia

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60 Fun Activities for Dementia Patients and Their Caregivers

Monday , October 12 , 2020

60 Fun Activities for Dementia Patients and Their Caregivers

Being a family caregiver is a highly rewarding experience, but it can be challenging at times. Caregivers of dementia patients, especially, can feel like they work and work and work and don’t make a difference.

That doesn’t have to be the case.

Part of being a great caregiver is learning about activities that will help engage someone who has been diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s, regardless of the level of the disease. Staying active and engaged is beneficial for both physical and cognitive health and can help ease anxious or aggressive behaviors. On top of that, activities done together can help form a bond of trust and security between the caregiver and their loved one.

Of course, many caregivers are thrown into the role by chance and have no formal training or education.

If you’re like the millions of other adults unexpectedly caring for an older friend or family member, you likely have no idea which activities are appropriate for a dementia patient and which are not.

To help keep you and your loved one busy and engaged, we’ve rounded up a list of 60 meaningful activities you can take part in together. Keep reading to learn more:

 

Planning Dementia Friendly Activities 

Where is a good place to begin when planning activities for a loved one with dementia? A good rule is to meet them where they are. Some good guidelines include:

  • Avoid pointing out what they can no longer do. Focus on options that compensate for skills they may have lost. For example, if your loved one can no longer read, try browsing together for audio books that they might enjoy. Use a computer or phone?
  • Keep track of skills and abilities. Keeping track of the skills and abilities as they deteriorate is vital. Can your loved one able to go to the grocery store and shop? Can they plan and cook a simple meal?
  • Be aware of physical limitations. Many older adults, not just those with dementia, suffer from changes to hearing, eyesight, flexibility, and more. Some physical limitations may require modifications to activities so they are still suitable.
  • Plan appropriate social events. People with dementia often feel anxious or overwhelmed in large gatherings or an unfamiliar environment. Try to set up gatherings with smaller groups or in a 1-to-1 setting to keep things comfortable.
  • Focus on enjoyment not success. What does your loved one find entertaining? Find activities that they naturally enjoy and lose your preconceived notions of how it “should” be done to alleviate stress.

5 Fun Activities for Someone with Dementia 

Keeping in mind that every dementia patient has different preferences and abilities, there are some activities that will likely be enjoyed by all. Some accommodation may be required, but here are some of our favorites:

  • Teach the Caregiver: Ask your loved one to teach you something he/she loves to do and/or an activity he/she has known or done for such a long time that they still remember it. Have them demonstrate a skill he/she can still do through “muscle memory,” such as tell you about what life was like in the past or something he/she is passionate about. Your loved one may need to show you, versus tell you, a story, depending upon their language abilities. Encourage this method of storytelling.
  • Read a Book Together: Read a book to your loved one. Let them pick the topic area. Pick one with emotional and sensory content to help with comprehension. Short chapters and a great plot help, too.
  • Hand Massage: Reduces anxiety, perception of pain and difficult behaviors. Begin by covering your loved one’s hands with a wet, warm washcloth for a minute. Massage using a scented cream or lotion they enjoy. Lavender is a good scent as it is both stimulating and relaxing. Always be gentle – older adults’ skin can bruise easily. Follow this protocol: http://www.ecarediary.com/viewblog.aspx?BlogID=620
  • Sniff the Spices: Select up to five herbs and spices from your loved one’s kitchen and ask, “I want to learn more about these spices. Can you teach me? Let’s smell them together.” Smell them one at a time. Imagine together what kinds of foods they would go with. Ask if they remember using these spices in dishes served during holidays and family gatherings.
  • I Made a Difference: In what way has your loved one made a difference to others such as his/her spouse, children, parents, siblings, friends, community, co-workers? How did they contribute to their field of work? This is an important part of life review and can help self-esteem and life satisfaction. Share the ways you’ve made a difference, too, if this is helpful and acceptable to both of you.

By being aware of your loved one’s interests and capabilities, you can build a list of activities that will keep them engaged and encouraged. For our full list of 60 Meaningful Activities to do With Dementia Patients, please contact us at (908) 927-0500 or email us here.

Posted in: Dementia

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Creating Dementia Friendly Communities

Monday , August 10 , 2020

Creating Dementia Friendly Communities

People with dementia often feel that society fails to understand the condition that they live with, how it impacts them, or how to understand them. As their disease progresses, they often withdraw from society rather than feel ostracized.

It is our job to prompt people to think about how businesses and communities can become more aware of and understanding about these people and the condition they live with. First responders, bank personnel, store clerks, restaurant staff – all of us, really – can contribute to a more helpful and humane environment for those who suffer from dementia and their caregivers.

The solution may lie in creating dementia-friendly communities.

What is a Dementia-Friendly Community?

Every single person in a dementia-friendly community, regardless of their role, is informed and respectful of individuals with the disease and the families and caregivers that provide them support.

Dementia-friendly communities are vital in helping people with dementia live well and maintain a connection to others. They are equipped to support the people living with dementia and their caregivers, and they allow those affected to remain in the community at large and to engage and thrive in day-to-day living.

According to Alzheimer’s Disease International, there are four essential elements needed to support a dementia-friendly community: People, communities, organizations, and partnerships.

This is what they have to say:

People

Dementia friendly communities should be shaped around information about the social and economic impacts of dementia, and the needs and opinions of people living with dementia, together with input from their caregivers. By ensuring that initiatives are inclusive of people living with dementia at all stages of development, we can succeed in giving them the sense of respect, dignity, and purpose they seek.

Communities

There is a need to tackle the stigma and social isolation associated with dementia through strategies to engage and include people with dementia in community activities. The availability of accessible community activities that are appropriate to the needs of people living with dementia, along with suitable transport options, are important for a community to become dementia friendly. The engagement of people living with dementia in existing community activities rather than only specialized activities is also important. Providing people with dementia the opportunity to remain in their homes and within their communities should be a guiding principle.

These are the opportunities we all have a right to expect: Paid or unpaid activities, social opportunities though sporting activities such as golf, meeting with friends, participation in community activities such as choirs and walking clubs, access to retail, banking and other services.

A physical environment that supports the needs of people living with dementia is also critical. It needs to be accessible and easy to navigate. Pathways, signage, and lighting all need special consideration.

Organizations

For people living with dementia to remain engaged within their communities, businesses and organizations need to demonstrate awareness, respect, and responsiveness. Encouraging organizations to establish dementia-friendly approaches and implement strategies that help people with dementia will contribute to a dementia friendly society.

A timely diagnosis of dementia and early treatment is a critical component of a dementia-friendly community. This allows for delivering dementia-friendly services that respond to the unique needs of people with dementia at the right place and the right time.

Partnerships

The establishment of dementia-friendly communities as a social action initiative needs cross-sectoral support and collective action to effect change. It is no one organization’s sole responsibility to effect change of this scale, therefore collective commitment to this cause and working in collaboration and partnership is critical. The strengths and focus of organizations within a community need to be identified and built into the plan for establishing a dementia friendly society.

Posted in: Dementia

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