“Rhythm and its entertainment of movement, (and often emotion), its power to ‘move’ people, in both senses of the word, may well have had a crucial cultural and economic function in human evolution, bringing people together, producing a sense of collectivity and community.” Oliver Sacks – Musicophilia It is not a new revelation that there are a multitude of benefits in using music as a modality for working with people living with dementia (PLwD).
Music has been proven to reduce stress and improve mood, communication, and physical abilities as well as to engage people. Music has a unique ability to reach people that many have felt are unreachable. Even people at the later stages of the dementia journey seem to respond positively to music. When dementia takes away the ability to remember family members or life events, music can reach the soul and connect the emotional memories that are very much still there. Musical memory endures even when the disease has taken so many other facets of our brain.
Through the years, there have been different modalities used to engage PLwD with music. Originally, CD players or radios were set up in resident rooms – usually playing random songs. More recently, the popular iPod or MP3 player with individual song lists became a hit across the nation. Evidence of the transformational power of music can be witnessed in the documentary Alive Inside where Henry appears to become enlivened when headphones were placed over his ears with music that was meaningful to him. There can be no doubt music has almost magical powers! Headphones are also popular; the new silent disco trend for people living with dementia, a very fun and active way to engage people. How do we use music to engage in a meaningful way and promote purpose for PLwD without using headphones? Research has revealed that creative arts is a dynamic method for promoting purpose, social inclusion, and engagement for people living with dementia. An interesting program I came across and would love to share with others is a program called Ageless Grace.
Ageless Grace uses music in a fun and playful manner so that participants do not feel that they are exercising. Almost anyone is able to participate, even those that are bedridden. The program is designed to be performed in a chair within a circle of people. The program is based on neuroplasticity and designed to activate all five functions of the brain along with promoting physical skills. It is a no fail program and, in fact, the way we build new neural pathways is by messing things up, by doing things differently. You will often hear Teepa mention that it is helpful to keep the brain active. Crosswords and Sudoku are a great way to exercise your brain, but when you attempt to do those puzzles while carrying out another task, you improve the neural pathways. An example Teepa offers is to try to squeeze a stress ball in one hand while writing your answers to the puzzles. The idea that it isn’t possible to build new neural pathways for people living with dementia is not accurate. Dr. Norman Doidge in the book The Brain that Changes Itself, states that the idea of neuroplasticity is possible even for people who had been considered hopeless. We know that dementia starts to rob our minds of the connectors within our brains. This leads to difficulty in lining up thoughts and memories in the correct order and timeline. However, as Teepa has told us, we keep, “Language on the left, and rhythm on the right. We lose on the left and retain on the right.” Using music to engage the connecters still intact on the right side can help us see that our loved one is still there.