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Why we need music in care homes

How music therapy encourages people with dementia to engage with their environment.
Ming_Hsu_music_therapy

Music therapy encourages people with dementia to engage with their environment

The number of people living with dementia in the UK is rising. There are 850,000 people living with dementia, and by 2025 the number is expected to top a million.

As well as memory loss, dementia can cause changes in behaviour, communication difficulties, confusion, delusions, disorientation, food cravings and hallucinations, as well as difficulties in judging speeds and distances. The neuropsychiatric symptoms of dementia include agitation, apathy, aberrant motor behaviour, psychosis and mood and emotional disorders such as depression and anxiety.

The prevalence of these signs and symptoms is especially high in care homes, where 70% of people have dementia or severe memory problems.

Emotions

The aim of music therapy is to regulate residents emotions through music. Music

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 Music therapy encourages people with dementia to engage with their environment

Ming_Hsu_music_therapy
The author (left) providing music therapy at a care home

The number of people living with dementia in the UK is rising. There are 850,000 people living with dementia, and by 2025 the number is expected to top a million.

As well as memory loss, dementia can cause changes in behaviour, communication difficulties, confusion, delusions, disorientation, food cravings and hallucinations, as well as difficulties in judging speeds and distances. The neuropsychiatric symptoms of dementia include agitation, apathy, aberrant motor behaviour, psychosis and mood and emotional disorders such as depression and anxiety.

The prevalence of these signs and symptoms is especially high in care homes, where 70% of people have dementia or severe memory problems.

Emotions

The aim of music therapy is to regulate residents’ emotions through music. Music can activate neurones in more regions of the brain than any other sensory input, and despite deterioration of cognitive functioning people with dementia can appreciate and make music until the condition is in its late stages.

During music therapy sessions, trained therapists with master’s degrees in music therapy interact with residents through joint music making and exchanging verbal, facial, vocal and bodily expressions.

Therapists observe each patient, assess his or her mood and play music to match it. Therapists can adjust the rhythm, volume or tempo of the music to help alter the patient’s behaviour and expressions. This process can have a direct and sometimes immediate effect.

Verbal interventions

When verbal intervention starts to fail and residents become agitated or despondent, music therapy can help residents engage with the world around them.

It can also communicate to carers the underlying causes of signs and symptoms of agitation, which could be as simple as a TV being too loud, a room being too hot or being spoken to in the wrong tone.

However, only one in 1,000 people living with dementia has access to this vital treatment, and the charity MHA is seeking to raise awareness of music therapy and funds to hire more therapists.


About the author

Ming_Hsu

Ming Hung Hsu is chief music therapist at the charity MHA

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