Music and memory is but one form of dementia therapy that can be used to help alleviate some of the symptoms caused by the disease.
However, its somewhat broader approach to therapy have allowed experts and researchers around the world to bring their own thoughts and approaches to this form of therapy, resulting in some truly unique approaches to the therapy, with positive results all round.
Writing Your Own Music
One form of music and memory therapy that has recently captured hearts is the work of Professor Felicity Baker.
Professor Baker is the co-director of the University of Melbourne’s National Music Therapy Research Unit, where she is well known for her work on music and memory therapy for dementia.
Earlier this year, she ran a special 10-week session for people with dementia that helped them write and compose their own songs.
She explained the feedback from participants was outstanding, but what was most interesting, was that many of the participants were able to remember their songs with relative ease.
“There’s this assumption that people with dementia can’t learn, that they’re just losing memories,” she said.
“But what we found is that they were actually remembering lyrics from week to week.”
“With music, they’re really engaged in a way that they’re not in other activities,” she continued.
“They’re offering their ideas and perspectives. They’re happy to argue with each other about what they think the lyrics should be and whether the lyric fits the melody.”
Why Is Music So Effective?
Music engages all parts of our brain, which is why it’s so effective as a form of therapy, says Professor Baker.
“When we engage in some activities, specific neural networks are activated. But when we listen to music, we actually engage quite a distributed network of neuronal activity.
“The theory is that pairing music and lyrics with an emotional experience can reach the threshold for memory. It connects people and helps them to remember.”
Continued Work into Music
Following on from her song writing course, Professor Baker says she now intends to conduct a large-scale study into looking how collaborative music therapy, such as choir groups, can be effective in alleviating the conditions that the millions of people with dementia face every day.
While many studies have been conducted in the past, Professor Baker says they have often not been on a large enough scale to draw concrete conclusions.
“Worldwide, we have amassed a lot of small-scale studies that show it’s effective but nothing big that will help us be taken more seriously when healthcare policies are being made,” she said.
She says the project will involve a major randomised control trial that would compare music and memory therapy approaches to the more traditional counterparts used in the industry.
“It’s going to be the biggest music therapy study in dementia care ever and it’s certainly a game-changer for the dementia field,” she explained.
The project will be part of the Boosting Dementia Research Initiative, a fund that gives $200 million to dementia research projects in the hope they can better solve and address the issues surrounding the disease that affects so many Australians.