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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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Understanding the Three Ds: Dementia, Delirium, and Depression

Monday , March 22 , 2021

Understanding the Three Ds: Dementia, Delirium, and Depression

Older adults are at high risk for depression and cognitive disorders such as dementia and delirium. Clarifying the diagnosis is the first step to effective treatment – but it’s not always easy. 

Delirium and depression can cause cognitive changes that may be mistaken for dementia, such as poor memory. And people who have dementia often develop signs of depression, like poor appetite and low self-esteem. 

There is also the genuine possibility that an older adult may have a combination of all three issues concurrently. 

So, how can you tell the difference between dementia, delirium, and depression in older people, to ensure they receive the proper care? Keep reading to learn more about the signs and symptoms of each condition. And make sure to sign up for our “Understanding the 3 Ds” webinar at the bottom! 

Delirium

Delirium is a neuropsychiatric syndrome that causes sudden changes to a person’s thinking and attention, causing them to become confused. Episodes of delirium are common among older adults, especially those who are ill, in the hospital, or recovering from surgery. The condition develops acutely and is temporary and reversible. 

The most common symptom is inattention, though a person experiencing delirium may also suffer from difficulty with orientation, memory, or language and thought. Hallucinations or illusions may also be present. 

Depression

Depression is a common mood disorder. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, over more than 264 million people suffer from the illness, and it’s the leading cause of disability worldwide. 

The diagnosis of depression depends on the presence of two main symptoms: persistent and pervasive low mood and loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities. Other signs include: 

  • Increased fatigue and sleep problems
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability (primarily in men)
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Uncontrolled emotions

Symptoms are of clinical significance when they interfere with everyday activities and last for at least two weeks. 

Along with apathy, depression is one of the most common symptoms in Alzheimer’s Disease – especially those with Lewy bodies. 

Dementia

Dementia is not a single disease but an umbrella term covering a wide range of medical conditions, including Alzheimer’s. According to the National Institute on Aging, “Dementia is the loss of cognitive functioning—thinking, remembering, and reasoning—and behavioral abilities to such an extent that it interferes with a person’s daily life and activities.”

Signs of dementia can vary greatly, but some common examples include: 

  • Problems with short-term memory
  • Increased confusion
  • Reduced concentration
  • Personality or behavior changes
  • Depression or apathy

Complications in Diagnosis

Symptoms of delirium, depression, and dementia can be pretty similar. For instance, delirium and depression may present with apathy and withdrawal, while delirium and dementia are characterized by confusion and disorientation. 

To further complicate matters, delirium and depression often occur in a person with dementia, so it is common to have all three issues at once. 

Differentiating delirium from depression and dementia requires knowing the characteristic features of each condition and knowing the patient’s history (either personally or from a family member or friend). 

The Victoria State Government has a helpful chart with a side-by-side analysis of all three conditions and their key features. 

Attend a FREE ComForCare Workshop

ComForCare is offering a free virtual workshop on Wednesday, March 31st, from 1:00 pm – 2:30 pm. 

The workshop entitled “Understanding the 3 Ds: Dementia, Delirium, and Depression” will count as one continuing education credit for social workers and case managers and 1.5 contact hours for RNs/LPNs.

By the end of the program, participants will be able to: 

  • Distinguish between dementia, delirium, and depression and the causes and prevalence of each
  • Recognize the signs and symptoms that overlap across all three conditions, as well as the differences that set them apart
  • Identify common scenarios in which combinations of conditions may occur
  • Explain why people need a thorough evaluation of any changes in mental status, including those already diagnosed with dementia
  • Take the appropriate actions to connect families and individuals to evaluations and resources if dementia, delirium, or depression are suspected

Go to bit.ly/delirium2021 to sign up today! 

Posted in: Aging

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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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