Music, Memory & People with Alzheimer’s

Recent research shows you can communicate better with people who have Alzheimer’s disease by using music they find meaningful. Music can also help people with Alzheimer’s manage emotional distress and improve their ability to eat and swallow.

An April 2018 study from the University of Utah Health in Salt Lake City reports that “objective evidence from brain imaging shows personally meaningful music is an alternative route for communicating with patients who have Alzheimer’s disease.” The research, published in The Journal of Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease, demonstrates that familiar music may facilitate attention, reward, and motivation. Music may also improve the management of emotional distress.

A second 2018 study by a team at Stony Brook University Hospital found that personal music intervention improves swallowing in people with advanced dementia. That improvement makes eating easier and may reduce the reliance on feeding tubes and PEG intervention.

Swallowing, self-feeding, and choking issues affect many people with advanced dementia. Those issues can lead to serious health consequences such as dehydration, malnutrition, and weight loss (change of status). This study, published in conjunction with Dr. Stephen Post of Stony Brook University in Dementia: The International Journal of Social Research and Practice, presents significant findings at a pilot level. The study seems to warrant further replication.

Researchers are finding that the region of the brain that deals with music maintains memories even after Alzheimer’s disease strikes. Researchers at the University of Utah Health are looking to this region of the brain to develop music-based treatments to help alleviate anxiety in patients with dementia.

For more information go to the American Music Therapy Association.