The Power of Music and Art in Dementia Care

The Power of Music and Art in Dementia Care

Specialised dementia care encompasses many areas, from medical assistance and personal care to practical help and emotional support. Following decades of research, it’s been shown that music and art can be extremely beneficial for patients with dementia. Whether individuals are newly diagnosed and experiencing minimal symptoms or have been symptomatic for quite some time, engaging in artistic pursuits and craftwork can improve memory and enhance communication skills. 

How do art and music help? 

Although there isn’t a cure for dementia yet, scientists have made breakthroughs when it comes to the management of various forms of dementia. In patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, for example, doctors are now able to understand exactly how the condition progresses and why. In addition to understanding how dementia progresses, research has highlighted ways in which symptoms can be minimised and managed. 

Arts, crafts and music are just one of the ways to help reduce the symptoms of dementia, and they can be a valuable element of dementia care and elderly care. With a range of activities, which can be modified according to the individual’s needs, people can engage in music and artwork at any time.

Enhancing memory

Simply listening to a song or tune can immediately take you back to a certain time or place, and this is exactly the same for individuals with dementia. Whilst the disease may limit their ability to recall people, names, places or events, music can help to restore these memories, even if it is only on a temporary basis.

Listening to music can provoke memories which have previously eluded the individual and may take them back to a time in their life they were previously unable to recall. For many individuals, music provides a link to their past which is otherwise severed, and this can be a cause for celebration. 

Enabling individuals to recall major life events is worthwhile in itself, but it can also provide a sense of comfort and increased confidence. If patients are aware that their memory is failing, they can find it very frustrating, scary and isolating. By using music to help them recall details of their lives, nurses and carers can help to reduce the symptoms of dementia and enable individuals to cherish their memories. 

Improving communication

Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia can limit a person’s ability to communicate. In many instances, people may find it increasingly difficult to express themselves as the disease progresses. When this happens, people may become frustrated and withdrawn, as they are unable to convey their feelings, thoughts or emotions. 

With the opportunity to try free-form art, however, individuals have the change to express themselves in a whole new way. Whether they have previously had an interest in art or not, being able to communicate with others and express their own emotions via drawing or painting can be freeing and therapeutic. 

Music has also enhanced communication and expression in people with various forms of dementia and has been successfully trialled by many doctors, nurses and patients. Individuals who previously avoided engaging with people often become far more animated and willing to engage with others when music is being played. Furthermore, studies have shown that individuals with dementia are more likely to engage with each other and those around them when music is played, often in the form of sharing memories and anecdotes.

Minimising anxiety

A dementia diagnosis can be anxiety-inducing for the patient, as well as for their friends and family. Whilst dementia invariably reduces a person’s level of independence, it can also heighten their sense of anxiety. In fact, it’s this anxiety and distress which can be extremely upsetting for the individual and those around them. Fortunately, therapeutic activities, such as artwork, have been shown to reduce anxiety by a significant amount. 

The act of drawing and painting in itself can be calming, and becoming engrossed in an activity helps to keep the mind focused. As a result, individuals with dementia tend to experience far less anxiety when they are stimulated with music and/or art. In addition to providing short-term anxiety-relief, many individuals express less anxiety in general when they incorporate these activities into their day-to-day lives.

Furthermore, listening to music can be soothing and anxiety-reducing in itself. Whether it’s listening to a tune which reminds you of your childhood, a song that was played at your wedding or enjoying relaxing melodies, simply having music on can help to minimise feelings of anxiety and depression.

Reducing depression

Individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia can often experience feelings of depression, particularly if they feel isolated or unable to take part in the things they used to enjoy. Whilst it’s not uncommon for individuals with dementia to also experience depression, there are steps which can reduce these unpleasant emotions and improve their quality of life. Listening to music can be extremely beneficial for people with depression, regardless of their age or medical condition. By provoking positive emotions, music can have a beneficial short and long-term effect on anyone who is battling depression or depressive thoughts.

Alleviating boredom

Many people with dementia experience boredom and this can be a precursor to isolation, loneliness and depression. If their condition prevents them from expressing themselves or engaging with other people, they may struggle to find things to do. Similarly, if their mobility is affected by dementia or another, unrelated condition, they may feel unable to take part in things they used to enjoy. 

Music and art-based activities can be an extremely effective way of alleviating boredom, and they can be modified to suit the individual’s particular level of ability and their interests. By giving them the freedom to chose how to engage in artwork or music sessions, individuals can control how they approach these activities. Furthermore, these activities can be shared with other people, which can lead to a reduction in boredom. Delivering the perfect balance for individuals with varying abilities, artwork and music is something which can be used to alleviate boredom and frustration throughout every stage of their dementia diagnosis.

Maintaining sociability

Individuals with dementia can gradually become more isolated, and even spending time with family and friends may be difficult. If a loved one struggles to play cards or engage in a board game, for example, listening to music or trying some artwork can be a great alternative. Listening to a song or album requires little cognitive input when compared to other activities, so it’s something which can be enjoyed by everyone. If a loved one is reluctant to play a game or engage in conversation, simply enjoying some music with them can be a perfect alternative. 

Similarly, doing artwork together can be a relaxing and enjoyable pastime for all involved. With no need to try and memorise the rules to a card game or whose turn it is to play next, artwork is something which doesn’t tend to provoke feelings of anxiety or stress, and this is obviously advantageous for individuals with dementia.

In addition to this, music and art are activities which are easy to undertake anywhere. A home care package can easily incorporate music and artwork, and individuals can also engage in these activities outdoors or when they’re out and about. If individuals tend to become anxious whilst waiting to attend a medical appointment, for example, it’s easy to pack a small sketchbook and some pencils so that they can take their mind off of their appointment while they wait.

Suitable for all abilities

One of the major benefits of both artwork and music is that there are activities which anyone can enjoy and take part in. Suitable for people of all abilities, these activities can be beneficial during the early stages of dementia, as well as when the condition is more advanced. Some individuals may enjoy sculpting pieces from clay or engaging in craft work like macramé, for example, whilst others may prefer to draw using pencils. Similarly, when listening to music, some individuals may like to take an active role in selecting songs to listen to, others may enjoy singing along and others may simply tap their foot or nod their head in time to the music. 

With no pressure to take part in a certain way or to perform the activity in a set methodology, individuals can be encouraged to take part in exactly the way they choose. Indeed, giving individuals with dementia a choice regarding how they do things can be empowering itself. Aside from the benefits associated with art and music, activities which give individuals choice and autonomy also provide them with a sense of control. As dementia tends to rob people of their control and independence, the freedom associated with music and artwork can be highly therapeutic. 

Professional Art and Music Therapy

Delivered by certified professionals, art and music therapy can be effective in numerous situations. In addition to assisting people with dementia, art and music therapies have been shown to help people of all ages when they’re suffering from physical and/or mental illnesses. 

Of course, professional music and art therapy can be effective in enhancing communication and memory, as well as reducing anxiety, for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. If there are local certified art therapy classes or music therapy sessions, for example, your elderly care package may include assistance in attending these groups. 

However, you don’t have to rely on professional or certified art and music therapy to benefit from these activities. Whilst professional art and music therapists spend years studying how these activities can help people, you needn’t miss out on the benefit they bring if there isn’t a class locally or if professional art and music therapy is outside of your budget.

Simply engaging in these activities on an informal basis can be beneficial to people with dementia, particularly if it’s something they can enjoy with other people. Although there is certainly a place for professional music and art therapy within dementia care, this isn’t the only way to ensure people with dementia benefit from artwork and music.

Individual art and music choices

Like all forms of dementia care and senior care, activities should be as unique as possible. By tailoring artwork and music to the individual’s particular interests, you can enhance its impact even further. If an individual used to play the cello, for example, they may enjoy listening to compositions which include the cello or classical and orchestral music. Alternatively, if an individual was a champion rock and roll dancer, they may prefer to listen to rock and roll hits from the 1950s and 1960s. 

If individuals are able to select their own music playlist, this can be an immersive and enjoyable activity, particularly as it gives them control over what they listen to. However, if individuals with dementia are unable to convey their preferred choice of music, family and friends may be able to assist. By identifying artists and songs the patient used to enjoy, nurses and carers can ensure the same music is available for them to enjoy. Alternatively, trying out different genres and music from various eras can be a great way to discover new tunes and determine which the individual enjoys the most. 

When listening to music, some individuals may enjoy controlling the music player themselves and selecting which track to play. With a fully-loaded MP3 player and some headphones, for example, patients can simply skip to the track they want to listen to, thus giving them increased control and freedom. For many patients, the loss of independence and control is a major factor in their experience of dementia, so any activities which restore their freedom and choice are extremely worthwhile.

Similarly, art-based activities can be tailored to an individual’s specific interests and abilities, so there’s no need to rely on a one-size-fits-all approach. With a myriad of art-related activities to choose from, there is something to suit everyone. If an individual was a keen oil painter in their youth, for example, they may wish to revisit this pastime. Alternatively, sculpting or watercolours may be their chosen medium. For individuals who are unable to partake in more intensive art activities, drawing, painting, colouring and free-from work is engaging and highly-beneficial.

With music and art activities providing a range of options for all abilities, these activities can be modified and tailored to suit anyone, including those with dementia. By incorporating art and music into domiciliary care, individuals can enjoy these hobbies with the people around them and benefit from the reduction in anxiety and improvement in communication they tend to bring.

Supplementing treatments with art and music

Although art and music therapy can be delivered in isolation, many people benefit from using art and music-based activities to supplement their existing treatment regime. If a patient is taking medication and engaging in physical rehabilitation or physiotherapy, for example, there is no reason that they cannot partake in music and art sessions as well. Indeed, these activities often become a part of daily life for people with dementia, simply because of the benefits they bring. 

In addition to this, music and art supplies can be obtained relatively cheaply, so they’re a viable option for the vast majority of people. Music players can be obtained for just a few dollars now, and art supplies can be as budget-friendly as a pad of paper and some pencils. Furthermore, art and music activities can be undertaken anywhere, so they’re ideal for individuals who wish to receive home care services or respite care. 

With dedicated nurses and carers on hand, domiciliary care and elderly care at home can be tailored around their needs. Indeed, senior care enables nurses are carers to focus their attention on the individual more in a home setting, and individuals can benefit from their undivided attention and interaction. Senior care and in-home care packages are centred on delivering emotional and psychological support, just as much as they are focused on providing the practical, physical and medical care the individual needs. 

When nurses and carers are able to engage in stimulating activities, such as artwork or listening to music, it can have a range of beneficial effects. Often, patients will feel more able to communicate when taking part in these activities, so it can be a crucial time for carers to gain insight into their client’s thoughts and feelings. 

Using music and art-based activities in dementia care

Any form of dementia can be overwhelming and isolated, but the right activities can enhance an individual’s quality of life quite dramatically. Whilst research and professional studies have shown the extensive benefits art and music can have, there is extensive anecdotal evidence to support this too. Indeed, the reduction of anxiety, improvement in mood, sociability, communication and memory can be seen by family members, friends, nurses, carers and often patients themselves. With so many advantages associated with music and art, it’s becoming an integral aspect of dementia care and can be delivered effectively via home care services and at home elderly care packages.

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