Music as an art form is embedded into human culture and can have powerful effects on us all. Dementia patients in particular can gain huge benefit from engaging actively or passively with music, and from receiving music therapy.
Dementia is not a specific disease but is rather a general term for the impaired ability to remember, think, or make decisions that interferes with doing everyday activities. Alzheimer's disease is the most common type of dementia. People with dementia can gain many positive effects from interacting with music: physical benefits, behavioural benefits, social benefits, cognitive benefits, and overall benefits to their quality of life.
Firstly, playing music for dementia patients can encourage movement and physical activity which can have many health benefits, including the improvement of mobility. Engaging with music can also help to reduce blood pressure and relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression. Furthermore, music releases endorphins which can help with pain management. From a physiological standpoint, music can also increase the heart rate and hormone levels in cognitively impaired patients.
Music can have many cognitive benefits for dementia patients as it stimulates many areas of the brain simultaneously, such as the areas that deal with speech, memory, and communication. Music can allow patients to express themselves and tell their story. Music can also improve mood and reduce agitation and its effects last long after the music stops. The music does not need to be familiar to exert these improvements and one does not need to have any formal knowledge of music or be musically inclined to enjoy music and respond to it at the deepest level. Music and memory are very strongly connected. Music lights up emotional memories – everyone remembers songs from their past – the first kiss, the song at a wedding, seeing their parents dance and we often use music to remember people at funerals. Therefore, it may allow dementia patients to tap into their long-term memory and reminisce on happy memories.
Music can also benefit dementia patients' quality of life in many other ways. For example, it can encourage social interaction and reduce social isolation. Music can also be a helpful tool for carers wishing to bond with their patients and can help reduce stress and agitation when giving patients personal care. Listening to a familiar piece of music can be comforting and can prompt reminiscing and elicit pleasurable responses such as smiling, laughing and dancing.