23 June 2017

Dementia and Music: the Connection

There are 850,000 people living with Dementia in the UK alone. In 2017, there will be an extra 225,000 people developing symptoms of Dementia, that is 1 every 3 minutes!

Dementia describes symptoms that occur when the brain is damaged by a disease, the most common being Alzheimer’s disease.  The symptoms can include memory loss, difficulties with language or thinking, but they can also impact someone’s mood and behaviour. 

There is currently no cure for Dementia.

However, introducing music into Dementia care has proven to reach parts of the damaged brain that other forms of communication cannot.

Professor Paul Robertson, an academic who has studied music in dementia care, said, “We know that the auditory system of the brain is the first to fully function at 16 weeks, which means that you are musically receptive long before anything else. So it’s a case of first in, last out when it comes to a dementia-type breakdown of memory.”

“For people living with dementia, the progress of the disease can gradually turn off all the functions of the brain like light-bulbs going out. However, memories of music are some of the deepest and the last to be lost.”  Norman McNamara

Music evokes emotions that bring memories.

Neurologiust Oliver Sacks said, “Music imprints itself on the brain deeper than any other human experience. Music evokes emotion, and emotion can bring with it memory... it brings back the feeling of life when nothing else can.”

Music can bring emotional and physical closeness.

A symptom of Dementia is losing the ability to share or express emotion. Through music, sufferers have shown to get up and dance, cry and hug.

Singing is engaging.

The Alzheimer's Society regularly holds group singing sessions nationwide called Singing for the Brain, they state that when memories are hard to retrieve, music is easy to recall. Singing activates the left side of the brain, studies have shown that it then sparked activity on the right side of the brain.

Music can shift mood, manage stress and stimulate positive interactions.

After listening to music, those living with Dementia may continue to engage for a while afterwards. Some patients who are usually mute and unable to answer yes or no questions, become able to interact and engage in short conversations, and are momentarily restored to themselves. This excerpt from Music and Memory illustrates it here.

The power of music is increasingly being recognised across organisations, with a number of charities supporting them: Golden Oldies, Singing for the Brain, Dementia Music and Lost Chord.

Since 2016, Newcross has pledged to become a Dementia Friendly organisation, signing up as many employees as possible to become Dementia Friends. Over the past few months our dedicated Clinical Trainers have been providing free courses to our employees to become Dementia Friends all over the country.

This week our Senior Management Team, including our Co-Founders Stephen Pattrick and Michelle Gorringe, became Dementia Friends, after attending a session provided by our Head of Learning and Development, Mark Story. You can sign up to become a Dementia Friend here or talk to your branch about your next local session.

For further an in depth look at the relationship between music and Dementia, Alive Inside: the Documentary shows the astonishing experiences of individuals who have been revitalized through the simple experience of listening to music. If you, your friends or family are directly affected by Alzheimer’s disease you can find support and advice here.