Shwetha Bhatia

Music – The Safe Kind Of High

January, 2017
The Master Responds

Music has multiple benefits. People with dementia who have lost their short-term memory often retain their long-term memory, especially for music. If you play music from someone's youth that holds personal meaning, it will help them stay connected with themselves and be more alive, alert, communicative, social, attentive, and more engaged.

There is abundant research on music's ability to reduce blood pressure, improve the mood, enhance sleep, as well as reduce agitation and anxiety. Research has also shown that it reduces behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia. Then there is research around how music helps reduce pain, as described by an article from the Journal of Advanced Nursing in the 1990s. Music also helps to facilitate occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech therapy.

Music, speech and movement are all interconnected in the brain. People sometimes fail rehabilitation because they're not getting up and moving. Studies show how people in rehab have felt motivated to move after listening to their favorite music!

Doctors often prescribe antipsychotics to dementia patients with agitation. We now know that you can often replace the antipsychotic medications with music, if you can figure out which music holds personal meaning for someone.

The US government is encouraging doctors who are working with elders with neurocognitive dysfunction who don't have a psychiatric diagnosis—including those with Tourette syndrome and Huntington disease—to avoid prescribing an antipsychotic drug, which otherwise significantly increases death rates. Not only that, these drugs can really diminish whatever cognition, function, and personality they have left.

Family and friends avoid visiting someone with Alzheimer disease even if they are at home. That's a recipe for decline as the person feels unwanted. By creating a pleasant environment in hospitals the person feels more wanted and less lonely, helping him fight back better. Music has proven that it helps even in these cases.

We assume older members of the family want to listen to a popular music genre from their youth. But unless that music holds personal meaning, perhaps associated to their senior prom, wedding song, or hanging out with friends, it will probably just register as background noise. That's why everybody should have their elders create a playlist. Neuroscientists say that this stuff works. We should help others in the family get their playlist together so that when they enter the healthcare system at any point—they go to the hospital, they go to a hospice, wherever they go—their music goes with them and will help transform their experience.

Music that moves you today will probably move you the same regardless of cognitive impairment later in life.

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