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Aged care residents are making dancing and singing a daily ritual using personalised headphones . Picture: Bolton Clarke Residential Aged Care

Music is medicine for people living with dementia

Experts have found that music can activate neural pathways in the brains of people with conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr Vicky Abad, registered music therapist and managing director of music therapy company Music Beat, says that music can be very powerful in therapy.

“Music is a window into people’s pasts,” she said.

“It builds on strengths and abilities against a disease that can strip a person of their dignity, abilities and quality of life.”

Dementia Australia's research into the prevalence of the disease found that there are currently over 421,000 Australians living with some form of dementia, and they have estimated that the number is expected to almost double over the next 30 years, without a medical breakthrough.

One Queensland aged care facility has seen first hand the positive impact music can have on dementia patients, including 'unrecognisable' personality changes.

Eighty-year-old TriCare Upper Mt Gravatt Aged Care resident Louis Rose requires a high level of care due to dementia, however, he enjoys listening to music on his own.

“I grew up in Mauritius and while we didn’t have a lot, we certainly had music. Listening to music has always been an escape for me and a way to relax,” Mr Rose said.

“When your brain starts to slow down and you find yourself forgetting things, it can be quite frustrating and confusing.

“Listening to music has been a way to distract myself from what’s going on in my head, it has helped me so much.”

Singer and dancer Tamsin Sutherland, of Star Powers Productions, regularly performs live music at facilities throughout Queensland.

“My one-woman shows include songs and dances from old movies that are familiar and nostalgic to residents,” Ms Sutherland said.

“Watching residents who are often non-verbal sing along to the words is incredible. It really is like they are coming back to life and reconnecting with who they once were. To be part of that is quite emotional for me.”

In South Australia, Bolton Clarke Holly Residential Aged Care has implemented the Moove and Groove program developed by Resparke, which allows residents to enjoy both music and movement through the use of headphones.

Personal care worker Courtnie Noble says the introduction of the program has been particularly impactful for residents living with hearing difficulties and dementia.

“We have been using the Moove and Groove kits every afternoon as some residents with dementia can experience agitation in the evenings,” Courtnie said.

“It has been so beneficial and easy because they can just pop the headphones on and hear whatever song they request.

“It brings the residents together and encourages them to be more involved. They definitely get right into it and it has become a part of their daily routine.”

Dr Abad explains that music can be a helpful tool in the prevention and management of the restless behaviour that many people with dementia experience in the evenings.

“Sundowning usually occurs in the late afternoon as dusk approaches, a time that is also associated with what used to be a busy time period in people’s lives,” Dr Abad said.

“Personalised music is a simple and effective tool to help residents feel validated in their emotions during this time and provides them an opportunity to experience a calmer state of mind”.

Holly aged care resident Margaret Asking says that she has experienced the relaxing effects of the program.

“It’s so calming when I feel worked up or stressed and takes all my worries away,” Ms Asking said.

“I can hear the music better with the headphones as well and it blocks out all the outside noises.”

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