Allen Power, M.D. has redefined dementia from the perspective of the person living with dementia as, “Dementia is a shift in the way a person experiences the world around her/him.”
What a universal human experience music can be. Music connects us with others who are present as well as connecting us with memories. Rhythm is usually preserved in a person living with dementia throughout the process and progression of their disease. As we see a decline in formal language skills (left-brain activity) in both understanding language as well as initiation of language, rhythm is usually preserved (right brain activity). Rhythm includes poetry, prayer and most universally music. Music is an effective tool for connecting not only with a person living with Alzheimer’s as well as those living with any related dementias.
World-renowned expert on communication with a person living with dementia and creator of The Feil Method of Validation, Naomi Feil, MSW, ACSW, whose background is social work, sees music as a powerful tool. Music is not only of use in connecting with the person but may also be valuable as one of the Techniques of Validation toward resolution for events of the persons past. Music may be used to kindle pleasant memories in a person that may exhibit troubling behavior or an unmet emotional need. Naomi Feil says, “A person may be able to sing even after they have lost the ability to communicate through speech.” To witness this miracle effect of music visit vfvalidation.org to view the video of Naomi working with a person with advanced dementia, Gladys. This video may raise an emotional response in the viewer, especially one of “we are not there yet”; I offer this simply as proof that music remains effective when you are with that person living with dementia at any stage of the disease process.
Another world-renowned expert that truly believes in the power of music is Teepa Snow, MS, OTR/L, FAOTA. Teepa has a background of more than thirty years as an Occupational Therapist and relates the therapeutic effect of music. Music can be used to alter a mood or emotion, it may calm or relax, it may be used to stimulate or energize the person. The effects of rhythm can be organizational; music may facilitate movement, emotional arousal and cognitive arousal. The effects of music may elicit a rapid positive response. Music may create a feeling or joy and wellbeing. Music may also provide a feeling of self-worth and success as the person may sing, dance, clap and tapping of feet. It feels like a success to the person living with dementia and the connection made with others.
Teepa suggests the use of music no less than twice daily, for both the person and the care partner. We all need a little recharge, what better way than music! Old familiar songs and hymns are most effective with the therapeutic effect upon the person living with dementia. Teepa Snow’s website is teepasnow.com and is full of useful information and videos. Both Teepa Snow and Naomi Feil can also be located on YouTube. There are also videos available for purchase on both of their sites.
How can we use music in the home and in a facility setting?
- Music may help to facilitate positive movement through exercise and walking.
- May be used to facilitate calmness when assisting with a necessary care function. Singing with a person while performing care may take the edge off the situation. Using a rhythmic or singsong way of speaking may improve their comprehension.
- May be used as a positive activity, singing together or in a group (make sure that the songs used are familiar and relatable to the person’s past).
- May simply be used to facilitate a quiet, restful period, whether alone or shared.
To best use music, think about your own experiences with music. Do you have a favorite artist, genre or period of music? Older adults respond to Big Band era music, but do not sell them short. They may enjoy music of the fifties or even the sixties. When you listen to music that you enjoy are you tempted to sing along or dance? Are you moved to clap with the rhythm or tap your feet to the beat of the music? Well, those experiences don’t change with age or ability.
The documentary, “Alive Inside” is easily found on amazon.com or Netflix. This documentary is sure to inspire any care partner whether family or professional. The website associated with the documentary is www.musicandmemories.com. Other resources for music and videos are www.eldersong.com and www.alzstore.com
Happy listening and happy connecting!
Stephen Catoe, CPAC, CALM, CVW, CDP
Musical Memories: One-to-one musical interactions for elders, especially those with dementia, stroke and other challenges. (512) 496-5227. http://musicalmemoriesaustin.com/
Swan Songs: A local non-profit providing musical concerts to terminally ill and hospice patients. (512) 416-7926. www.swansongs.org