Dementia & Music Therapy
If you’ll allow me, I’d like to talk about dementia. You may find it interesting – and/or – it may be helpful to you.
Dementia: a general term for loss of memory, language, problem-solving and other thinking abilities that are severe enough to interfere with daily life.
In 2017 I read an article explaining the benefits and promising studies of the effects of music on the lives and treatment of people with dementia. The patient is provided with headphones or put into a room alone to listen to music he/she most likely listened to as a young person. The reactions and results were promising.
Then, about a year later, another major study decided to focus on the music the patients actually listened to as young people. Replaying their “mix tapes”, if you will. The results of these studies proved musical therapy for sufferers of dementia frequently helped improve mood and, even if temporary, memory recall. Nurses reported seniors, while listening to their favorite songs, smiling for the first time since entering their facilities.
Until her passing earlier this year, my mother suffered from dementia for the last 7 years of her life. I use the word “suffered” because there is no sugar-coating this disease. It should be called out for what it is – as uncomfortable as it may be.
Some individuals are diagnosed with dementia and quickly move through the phases – with a short life expectancy. My mother didn’t fit that category. She went from fully-aware to high-level dementia within a few months – and her suffering continued for years. There are no words for families who go through this tragedy. And, unfortunately, I suspect many of you can relate to this. Dementia has, most likely, touched your life in some way. If it hasn’t already, there is a high statistical probability it will some time in the future. And I very much wish this wasn’t the case. I don’t wish this on you or your family or on anyone you care about. Or – on anyone at all.
My mother was not exposed to musical therapy – but, in retrospect – I think this course of treatment might have helped. Maybe not long-term or in any way that would lead to noticeable (that could be studied) improvements. But, I think it might have helped. Just not in the way a scientific study or experiment can measure.
During our final weeks, months, or years in life, I believe quality of life is where the main focus should be aimed and remain. People with long-term physical pain issues and people with deteriorating brain conditions sometimes surprise the experts and smile. Something triggered the smile (not always an automatic inappropriate response). The smile was caused by memory. And this is important.
Musical therapy for patients with dementia is in its infancy. I very much expect we’ll soon learn of ground-breaking studies detailing the accomplishments of this research and the positive effects it has upon recipients.
But, honestly, I think the focus should be direct and “focused”. Music therapy may or may not help a long-term dementia patient improve their ability to recall memories (in a sustained manner) or better take care of themselves. I strongly suspect the high-level benefits will be more simple than that.
In my final days, I want to be comfortable. I don’t want to be in pain and I want to know me as I know me today. Fully aware. Music therapy may have the potential to bring dementia patients comfort by returning their minds to a better and more-aware time. Numerous studies show people relate to familiar music more than they relate to any other stimulus available.
I believe music therapy is the future of dementia treatment. But not to cure them – in a traditional sense. I strongly suspect music therapy will help their final days be more joyful. When a dementia patient smiles – whatever caused it is a necessary good. And, if this can be repeated (over and over and over), then the therapy is a success. It doesn’t have to prolong life – it just needs to improve the life we have remaining. This is a monumental win.
A little more than a year ago, I actively worked on finding a way to better understood what my mother dealt with on a daily basis – without any pause or interruption. Dementia provides no intermission. I ran across a piece of music that helped me understand the intensity of dementia. It’s called “Everywhere at the End of Time”, by modern composer Leland James Kirby (better known as The Caretaker – a reference to Stephen King’s character Jack Torrance in “The Shining”). It’s a 6 ½ hour musical decline from fully aware to high-level dementia. Listening to this is how I came to understand (as best as someone can, without experiencing it) dementia. It’s not a happy journey – but it is an educational one. English composer Lucas King soon after provided a visual and musical representation (much shorter than the aforementioned) of the disease. Both musical expressions are linked below.
Families dealing with dementia will, hopefully, actively work on finding a way to understand the disease (the best they can), in ways they can relate to the afflicted – and have empathy towards their condition. It’s absolutely devastating – and worth taking the time to learn more about it and be there for those we love.
Aside from the multiple issues and problems with the relationship between my mother and I throughout the years – I loved her and continue to love her very much. Dementia stole her away from me and my family – and she lost herself in the process. But – in the end – my mother loved me and, at the end of every phone call for the last few years, she said it and meant it.
And, I’m okay with that.
Everywhere at the End of Time (Leland James Kirby) - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wJWksPWDKOc&t=4860s
Dementia (Lucas King) - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nxvEbqKZy-0