Did you know the month of September is World Alzheimer’s Awareness month? There are several types of dementia but Alzheimer’s disease is one we are most aware of. Many of our patients in hospice care have Alzheimer’s and many of these patients receive music therapy visits.
You may have seen popular YouTube visits of people with Alzheimer’s engaged in a listening program that suddenly begin to perk up and start talking or moving rhythmically upon hearing music. Often nursing homes or assisted living places will have music programs that residents enjoy immensely. For some people with dementia, however, these programs can be overwhelming or trigger unpleasant memories or emotions.
Music therapists are experts at navigating how to utilize music in a way that helps our patients recall lost memories, help communicate, reduce agitation, and help patients to self-express with dignity. Well-chosen music used in an intentional way can ignite neural pathways in the brain that connect with each part of the brain related to emotions, motor behavior, communication, and yes, memories, especially long-term memories for patients with Alzheimer’s. These interventions are done through processes such as rhythmic cuing, melodic speech intonation, or using a patient’s favorite music from a special time in their lives to recall happy memories or provide comfort.
Music therapists can also use music to help support a patient’s spiritual identity. One such hymn I have used repeatedly is “Precious Memories.” The lyrics itself offer a beautiful reminder that our patients are both Holy and Wholly human, even when the brain seems to have forgotten.
Precious memories, unseen angels
Sent from somewhere too my soul
How they linger ever near me
And the sacred past unfolds