In Texas, 32 nursing homes have been selected to participate in a pilot program designed to help their residents. The goal of this program is to improve the quality of living among residents with Alzheimer’s, dementia, and amnesia by reducing reliance on antipsychotics. The method which is used? Music.
Loved ones and caretakers of residents will create personalized playlists to help them get back in touch with themselves, their lives, and those around them. Data will then be collected to document the benefits residents experience during the program.
Normally, when a resident becomes dangerously disoriented or nervous, antipsychotic medications are one of the methods used. Music and Memory, founded by Dan Cohen, advocates a different approach. By using music from an individual’s past, caretakers are able to calm him or her and reduce reliance on drugs.
Caretakers will form playlists and save them to devices such as iPods for residents to listen to. The use of music helps calm patients down, improve their social disposition, and ultimately reduce the use of antipsychotics.
Music and the Brain
How does this work? It all has to do with the way music interacts with the brain.
When your brain forms a memory, it creates neural connections to it. The more elements involved in forming that memory, the more connections will be created. For example, a boring day in a classroom is not going to be particularly memorable, but a dance setting full of music and feeling will be.
Music engages multiple parts of the brain, and thus will allow the brain to form multiple neural pathways to memories involving it. This is why when you hear a particular song, it may invoke powerful memories from your past. It is this quality that makes it so helpful for people with memory loss.
The part of the brain that processes music is closely related to those governing memory, emotions, and creativity, and it is among the last parts affected by Alzheimer’s. Thus, music can be used to help those with memory loss to recall events that weren’t previously accessible to them and to “wake up” as individuals.
The research supporting the use of music in treating memory-loss patients is extensive. The benefits those with Alzheimer’s and dementia can receive include:
- Increased alertness and energy levels
- Better overall disposition
- Improved social atmosphere among residents, caretakers, and loved ones
- Reduced reliance on antipsychotics, which is beneficial for both nursing homes and their residents