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Classical Music and the Alzheimer’s Brain

All kinds of music therapy can be beneficial to Alzheimer’s and dementia patients. Classical music in particular can be especially good for dementia and Alzheimer’s patients because the words in songs may be overstimulating. Also, tones and vibrations of classical music helps to stimulate deep brain waves. Classical music can be soft or loud and exciting, so there is a pieces fit for every person and every mood. It is also timeless, which means that it is universally appealing.

People with Alzheimer’s retain the ability to understand music until the very last moments of life because the part of the brain where music processing resides, scientists have discovered, is the very last to go. Part of the reason music works in Alzheimer’s disease is that it is processed in the basal ganglia, the primitive, reptilian, part of the brain that is resistant to the damage, said Andrew Budson, associate director of the Boston University Alzheimer’s Disease Center. Music is processed there, in part, because that’s where the brain responds to rhythm and beat.

The basal ganglia survive longer with Alzheimer’s because the loss of the episodic memory is associated with a network of memory in the cortex, the most modern part of the brain that deteriorates in the disease. Alzheimer’s is more a disease of the cerebral cortex. According to one theory, the basal ganglia doesn’t utilize that network, making it relatively stable throughout most of the course of Alzheimer’s.

“Listening can create a calming environment,” says a professional music therapist, “Singing offers socialization and engagement; as well as physical benefits. It exercises lungs, increases oxygen, stimulates overall circulation and reduces stress. Playing instruments can improve fine and gross motor skills, reduce stress and increase socialization. Writing music provides creativity and allows for self- expression.”

Music therapists also recommend making a specific playlist for the dementia or Alzheimer’s patient with their favorite songs and also songs that were popular from when they were ages 18-25. Better results are seen if a patient participates in music therapy two to three times per week for 45-minute sessions.

Music as medicine: Best of all, music has no side effects, unlike prescription medications, so using music in conjunction with scientific-based medical treatments can improve overall success..

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