Music Should Be Part of Alzheimer's Disease Treatment
Several studies indicate that music should be part of Alzheimer’s disease treatment because it can be effective in dealing with significant challenges associated with the disease. Among those challenges are wandering, agitation, and depression. .
The conventional approach to dealing with Alzheimer’s patients who have wandering behaviors, depression, and/or agitation is to prescribe medications. Unfortunately, often these drugs are not only ineffective, but they also are associated with significant side effects.
Why not take a non-pharmacological approach? Numerous studies have shown that music therapy, approached in a variety of ways, is helpful in dealing with these behavioral problems.
New study of music therapy and Alzheimer’s
In a new study, 132 individuals with moderate to severe dementia and who were living in nursing home were enrolled in a study in which their symptoms were evaluated, they participated in a two-week music therapy program, and then they were evaluated again. Here’s what the researchers found:
- After two weeks of music therapy, there were significant reductions in symptoms of depression and agitation
- Wandering behaviors did not change
The authors concluded that “widespread use of music therapy in long-term care settings may be effective in reducing symptoms of depression and agitation.”
Magic of music in Alzheimer’s disease
The magic of music in Alzheimer’s disease can be explained in that one’s memory of music is partly independent from other memory systems, although this relationship is not completely understood. Therefore, investigators studied 32 normal young adults and evaluated their brain responses to excerpts of music using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans.
Once the scientists identified the areas of the brain associated with known and unknown music (i.e., caudal anterior cingulate and ventral pre-supplementary motor area), they analyzed data from three Alzheimer’s biomarkers in these brain areas in 20 individuals (10 males, 10 females) with Alzheimer’s disease and 34 healthy controls. The experts discovered that the areas that encoded musical memory corresponded to areas that revealed minimal atrophy of the brain and minimal interruption of glucose metabolism (important for memory) when compared with the rest of the brain.
The authors concluded that their findings indicated that “given the observed overlap of musical memory regions with areas that are relatively spared in Alzheimer’s disease, the current findings may thus explain the surprising preservation of musical memory” in individuals with this devastating disease. Incorporating music into the lives and treatment programs of people with Alzheimer's disease could be an effective, inexpensive, and safe approach.
Jacobsen JH et al. Why musical memory can be preserved in advanced Alzheimer’s disease. Brain 2015 Aug; 138(Pt 8): 2438-50
Kay KD, Mittelman MS. Music therapy: a nonpharmacological approach to the care of agitation and depressive symptoms for nursing home residents with dementia. Dementia (London) 2015 Oct 29