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The Arts and Alzheimer’s

by Louise November 9th, 2018 | Mental Health
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music notesThere are many ways that an Alzheimer caregiver can help enrich the life of an affected person, whether it is helping with daily planning, communication, or food and eating. Did you know that music and art are great care tools for people living with Alzheimer’s disease? Music and art are unique activities, because they allow self-expression and engagement. Both of these factors can truly help enrich the life of someone living with Alzheimer’s disease, even throughout the progression of dementia, when self-expression and engagement can become more difficult.

First, consider music. Music has been shown to improve some of the behavioral issues that are associated with the middle stages of Alzheimer’s. Even in the later stages of a person with Alzheimer’s disease, music can play an important role. This is because people can have a powerful connection with music and likely have memories associated with music from their childhood years. When verbal communication becomes difficult, music provides a different mode of connection. A person with late-stage Alzheimer might be able to enjoy and engage in (by tapping or singing) a song from their past.

Similarly, art can greatly aid the mental health of a person living with Alzheimer’s. The right art project can help an affected person feel a sense of accomplishment, which is not as easy to achieve for those living with Alzheimer’s disease. It also provides a natural opportunity for self-expression. Just like music, art can provide a different way to interact and connect with the world when other modes have become too difficult to use.

The type of art and music that best enhances the life of a person with Alzheimer’s is of course determined on an individual level. The grandmother who played piano as a child may or may not still find piano music to be the most enjoyable kind. If you are choosing music for a person with middle to late stage Alzheimer’s disease, there are a few ways to optimize the experience. Movement should be encouraged to enhance interaction and connection. Volume should be controlled to a relatively low level to avoid sensory overload. Other noises, such as a nearby television, should be eliminated, because they can confuse the person. For the same reason, music sources that could be interrupted by commercials should be avoided. Music can also be chosen to help encourage a certain mood. The tempo or mood of the song should be matched appropriately to the environment. It can also take time to find the most effective art project for a person with later stages of Alzheimer’s. Care should be taken to avoid projects that seem intended for children. It’s okay to start a project and not finish; it’s also okay if the person needs help getting started with an idea or movement. The more communication that can be built into the project, the more powerful it can become.

In many ways, music and art are the perfect tools for caregivers for Alzheimer’s disease.

(Photo courtesy of  Sanja Gjenero)

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All health and medical information is provided for educational purposes and is not meant to replace the medical advice or treatment of your healthcare professional.