Music Therapy for Dementia Patients is as Old as Song
Music therapy for dementia patients is not a new thing. The notion that music can reach beyond the surface layers of our cognition and touch us deeply is hundreds, perhaps thousands of years old. Shamans, musicians, religious leaders, and even modern-day politicians have been using this tactic to create emotional responses in their audiences for centuries. However, the practical use of music as therapy is at least 60 years old.
A new class of therapists, clinicians, and doctors are exploring the positive effects of music therapy for dementia and Alzheimer’s treatments in assisted living facilities all over the world. As Director Michael Rossato-Bennett explores in his new documentary “Alive Inside,” personalizing the melodies can deliver an even more powerful experience to patients, even those suffering from severe cases of dementia. While music is not a cure nor is it a treatment, it has been scientifically proven to improve the quality of life dementia and Alzheimer’s patients enjoy.
The film chronicles the active research of numerous visionaries in healthcare including social worker Dan Cohen, founder of the nonprofit organization Music & Memory. It explores the relationship between music and the deep-seated emotional and mental link between memory sound—specifically custom-tailored music. Proponents of music therapy for dementia patients believe that music can actually bypass some of the cognitive limitations that dementia patients suffer from—effectively reaching their inner selves and touching them in a very real way.
Music Therapy for Dementia Breaks Through Mental Barriers
One of the saddest parts of watching someone suffer from dementia or Alzheimer’s is seeing how their affliction effectively walls them off from the world and from themselves. Director Rossato-Bennett feels these patients exist in a sort of emotional desert where the very core of their humanity is faded, washed out, and dried up. He believes that delivering music specifically curated for the individual patient shatters some of those barriers and brings a very real comfort, relief, and a sense of identity back to some of these individuals.
Indeed, these individuals do show very real emotional responses to the music they’re hearing, often smiling, dancing as best they can, and sometimes just sitting in wide-eyed awe.
But how powerful is this type of music therapy for dementia patients? In one institutional setting that had been using music therapy for quite some time, Director Rossato-Bennett asked a clinician about the duration of the effect that he himself had noticed. The clinician replied that when these patients are exposed to their personalized playlists for an hour in the morning, it can sort of “reset” their entire day.