Senior,With,Dementia,Or,Alzheimer's,Is,Comforted,By,Caring,Female

Understanding Senior Mental Health: Who can Diagnose Dementia?

In an aged care context, typically dementia is diagnosed by either a General Practitioner (GP) who may refer you onto additional specialists, or by the Aged Care Assessment Team (ACAT).

The ACAT are apart of My Aged Care who can complete assessments on request and consists of:

•  Registered nurses (RNs)

•  Occupational therapists (OTs)

•  Physiotherapists

•  Speech pathologists

•  Social workers

A dementia assessment may include an extensive psychological and physical health assessment to ensure that a dementia diagnosis is accurate rather than symptoms being caused by other issues.

When being diagnosed by a GP, Dementia Australia outlines some of the information that may be collected by your doctor and/or their referred specialist(s) including:

•  Detailed medical history of the individual with dementia symptoms

•  A conversation with a close loved one to determine when the symptoms first occurred

•  A thorough physical and neurological examination

•  Other specialised tests such as a chest x-ray, ECG, CT scan or MRI

•  A dementia screen which are blood/urine tests

•  Psychiatric assessment to see if something else is mimicking dementia

While it may seem overwhelming or unnecessary, it is crucial to diagnose dementia early when possible to ensure that the right treatment and care is provided.

If you’re concerned that yourself or a loved one may be displaying dementia symptoms, you can contact My Aged Care at 1800 200 422 to set up an ACAT assessment

Health,Visitor,Talking,To,A,Senior,Woman,During,Home,Visit

Dementia FAQs

What is dementia?

Dementia is defined by Dementia Australia (dementia.org.au) as ‘a collection of symptoms caused by disorders affecting the brain.’ Dementia is an umbrella term for a group of diseases that impacts brain function, specifically effecting memory and therefore behaviour.

Why does dementia occur?

Dementia happens due to a combination of age, genetics and lifestyle factors and while certain things we have confirmed increase the risk, the exact reason why people develop dementia is still unknown.

Which type of dementia is the most common?

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia.

Other common types of dementia include:

  • Vascular dementia
  • Lewy body disease
  • Frontotemporal dementia

How does dementia effect the brain?

How dementia effects the brain depends on the type of dementia that an individual is diagnosed with. Therefore, symptoms and experiences of dementia can be unique and vary from person to person.

For the most common type of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, there is a significant decrease in the chemicals that help the brain’s neurons to communicate with each other in the way they normally do and can occur in different areas of the brain.

Are Dementia are Alzheimers the same?

No, dementia and Alzheimers are not the same. Alzheimers is the most common type of dementia, where dementia is the type of condition and Alzheimers is the individual diseases within the dementia category.

Which dementia is hereditary? 

Familial Alzheimer’s disease (FAD) noccurs when Alzheimers can be inherited due genetic mutations on three genes being presenilin 1 (PSEN1), presenilin 2 (PSEN2) and amyloid precursor protein (APP) genes. However, while it does happen, hereditary dementia like FAD is rare.

Can dementia be prevented or reversed?

While it can’t be reversed, you can reduce your risk of developing dementia by having a healthy and positive lifestyle. Things that increase you risk for dementia includes:

  • physical inactivity
  • lack of mental exercise
  • smoking
  • obesity
  • diabetes
  • high cholesterol
  • high blood pressure

However, if they develop, dementia symptoms can be managed with quality care and medication.

Will dementia be curable?

There is currently no cure for dementia. Due to the fact that over 100 diseases may cause dementia, it is possible that with more research and further understanding of how dementia develops, certain types of dementia may be curable in the future.

Where to get help with dementia?

Dementia Australia has a national dementia helpline that you can call or you can visit their website for additional resources.

National Dementia Helpline: 1800 100 500

Dementia Australia website: dementia.org.au

Here at Scalabrini, we also provide dementia related services. As an aged care provider, we specialise in caring for those who have been diagnosed with dementia and need a place to live where their higher level needs can be met around the clock by our Dementia Excellence Team. To enquire about moving you or your loved one with dementia into one of our villages, please call or email us to see if we’re the right fit for you.

Scalabrini phone number: 1800 722 522

Scalabrini email: enquires@scalabrini.com.au

Adult,And,Children,Hands,Holding,Brain,With,Puzzle,Paper,Cutout,

Dementia Education: Signs and Symptoms

Dementia is an umbrella term for multiple neurological disorders that causes a decline in brain functioning which impacts an individuals everyday life. While typically seen in older people, dementia is not considered a normal part of ageing and generally occurs due to a combination of lifestyle factors including age, genetics and health, but anyone can develop the disease.

There is unfortunately no cure yet for dementia. However, specialised dementia care can be provided to manage presented symptoms. To ensure the right care is provided, it is important for individuals to be diagnosed as early as possible. While we understand that this is difficult, recognising dementia at its early stages is crucial.

To provide the care needed, please look out for the following dementia symptoms in your loved ones:

  1. Memory loss impacting daily living
  2. Confusion around time, dates and places
  3. Changes in personality, behaviour and/or mood
  4. Decrease or absence of good judgement and decision making
  5. Decrease or absence of personal initiative and motivation
  6. Difficulties performing familiar tasks
  7. Difficulties with language – including speech, writing or language comprehension
  8. Difficulties with abstract thinking (eg. depth perception, problem solving, hypotheticals and symbolism etc.)
  9. Difficulties with misplacing items and an inability to retrace steps to find it

While Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, it does not come from one specific condition alone, as multiple conditions can lead to dementia. Dementia is also experienced differently by the individuals impacted because of a large variation of symptoms. However, after an official diagnosis from a medical practitioner, people with dementia can still live fulfilling lives.

If you’re worried that a loved one is showing signs of developing dementia, you don’t have to care for them alone. As the condition becomes more complex overtime, so does the care that needs to be provided.

At Scalabrini, we specialise in dementia care to increase the quality of life for those with high care needs by creating enriching environments and managing symptoms. We specifically cater to individuals living with dementia and they are accommodated by our Dementia Excellence Team who specialise in creating ideal environments for residents.

Our experienced team is here to answer any questions that you may have about dementia and what dementia care at Scalabrini looks like. To learn more about how we can help you meet the needs of your loved one, please don’t hesitate to have a chat with us at enquiries@scalabrini.com.au or call 1800 722 522.

A photo of grandson spending time with his great-grand mother

Tips to Help your Grandchildren Understand Dementia

Watching a loved one change due to Alzheimer’s can be confronting, especially for children. By using these tips to help your grandchildren understand dementia (or Alzheimer’s which is a particular form of dementia), you can alleviate some of their fears and confusion.

It’s never easy watching the person you love change due to Alzheimer’s.

Although they’re still physically by your side, it can feel like you’ve lost a special part of them.

Even for adults, watching a loved one’s memory and mental abilities decline can be confronting.

So, we can only imagine how confusing and upsetting it must be for children — especially if their beloved nan or pop no longer remembers who they are.

The good news is, there are ways of explaining dementia to your grandchildren to help them understand what’s happening.

By talking to them about the condition, you can help them get the most of the treasured time they have left with their grandparent.

Tips for helping your grandchildren understand dementia
Keep it simple

When it comes to explaining dementia to a child, it’s best to keep it simple, direct and age-appropriate.

For younger children, you may choose to say something like “Grandma has a condition that makes it hard for her to remember things” or “Grandpa’s memory isn’t what it used to be, so we need to take special care of him.”

On the other hand, older children or teenagers may be more interested in understanding the ‘why’ behind dementia in the elderly.

You can explain that Alzheimer’s is a neurological disease that affects some people in old age, and that dementia is a term to describe some of the symptoms that go along with it — such as memory loss, reduced mental function and changes in behaviour.

Use comparison

To help with understanding dementia, it can be useful to give children a point of reference.

Some people liken the condition to regressing back to a young child — as depending on the severity of their condition they may struggle to communicate verbally.

You can use this comparison when explaining Alzheimer’s to children.

For example, you could say something like “Grandpa isn’t quite his usual self, but he’s more like that three-year-old who lives next to you.”

This can help alleviate some of the fears they have around seeing their grandparent’s behaviour change.

Use tools to help you

You don’t have to go through the experience of explaining dementia to a child alone.

There are many excellent resources out there to help guide you. Dementia Australia has a range of accurate and informative information and videos you can access also.

Storytelling can be a very powerful tool, as it helps children understand that they’re not alone in the experience of dealing with dementia.

“Grandma Forgets” is a beautiful, illustrated book that tells the heart warming story of a family’s love as they cope with their grandma’s dementia.

Harry Helps Grandpa Remember is another gentle introduction to the realities of dementia, filled with humour, hope and compassion.

YouTube is another helpful resource, as there are many videos created for kids by kids to help them understand the condition.

Explain that it’s not about them

Children may feel hurt that their grandparent no longer remembers their name or gets them confused with someone else.

They may begin to wonder if they’ve done something wrong, or if that special bond they had with their grandparent ever really existed.

It’s important to let them know that the current circumstances doesn’t mean they love them any less.

Help them understand that the memory loss and behaviour has nothing to do with them, and everything to do with their grandparent’s condition

Hear them out

It’s important to listen just as much as you talk when explaining dementia to a child.

Hear them out and be as open and honest as you can when answering their questions.

They may feel sad, confused, scared and even angry and that’s perfectly valid.

Rather than telling them that their feelings are wrong, let them know that you understand and that you’re there for them.

Put a positive spin on it

Many of us think of dementia in quite a dark and negative light — most likely, because we associate it with loss.

However, it’s possible to flip the narrative and put a more positive spin on it.

While people living with severe dementia tend to lose much of their short term memory, they’re sometimes about to recall very old ones or dream up new ones altogether.

With your grandchildren, it can be fun to immerse yourself in these imaginary worlds — you can say “I wonder where Grandpa is going on her cruise ship” or “What do you think Grandma is wearing to her debutante ball?”

With younger children, just be sure to draw the line between imagination and reality, so they know you’re just playing pretend.

Help them enjoy their time together

Just because your loved one isn’t their usual self, doesn’t mean your grandchild can’t enjoy spending time with them.

One of the best things you can do for them is to help them continue to create cherished memories together.

Try brainstorming  some ways they can spend time with their grandchild without holding a complex conversation.

This could include reading to them, listening to music together or getting out into nature.

They could also make something together, such as a scrapbook, a birdhouse or some simple jewellery.

Not only is this a fun activity, but it’s also a great way to memorialise their time together.

The bond between children and their grandparents is a beautiful one, and dementia doesn’t have to change that. By using the above tips, you can help children understand Alzheimer’s and enjoy their time together without fear or confusion.

Senior man on back car seat

Tips for Travelling with a Loved One Living with Dementia

With the holidays around the corner, many families will be travelling over the next few weeks. While Christmas travel can be stressful for everyone, there are additional considerations if you’re travelling with someone living with dementia.

Luckily, with a bit of preparation, you can a fun, safe, and successful trip with your family member. Here are some tips for travelling with a loved one living with dementia:

Plan Well

The success of your trip will depend greatly on how well you plan that trip. Make sure that you focus on keeping it as simple as possible. This may mean that it’s slightly more expensive as you choose direct flights over flights with stopovers, and take plenty of breaks.

Make sure you allow plenty of time as well. For example, it may not be a good idea to take an early morning flight if it will mean you’ll already be feeling rushed. Instead, an early afternoon flight will often work best as it will give you plenty of time to get to the airport and settle in before boarding.

Of course, this will depend greatly on your loved one’s schedule. They may do better in the mornings or experience restlessness in the evening, so be sure to plan accordingly.

Take Precautions

People living with dementia can sometimes get confused when in unfamiliar surroundings. A medic alert bracelet can be helpful- providing information in the event that your loved one gets lost.

You may also want to write out a card with their name, any important health information, your contact details, and the name and address of the hotel or family member’s house where they’re staying. Put this card in their pocket, wallet, or purse, as a precaution just in case they become lost at any stage.

Don’t Forget the Essentials

Whether you’re taking a long road trip or flying, it’s important that you have everything you need close by. Some things to remember include ID, passports, extra clothes, medical information, prescriptions, emergency contacts, snacks, and some easy activities that your loved one likes to do (small puzzles, games, and books are great options).

Arrange for Peace and Quiet

People with dementia can often become overwhelmed with lots of noise, rushing around, and people. If you’re flying, you may not be able to give them some quiet time, but try to arrange for this to happen relatively soon after you land.

If you can, book a hotel for right after you arrive, so that your loved one has a chance to settle in for the rest of the day and escape the chaos that comes with travel. If you’re staying with friends or family, see if you can arrange for a designated space in the house that your loved one can use whenever they need some time out.

Involve Your Loved One

While people with dementia may sometimes get overwhelmed by too many choices, they should still be involved with the planning process. Let them know about the trip well in advance, and keep it top-of-mind by discussing it regularly.

Create a copy of the itinerary and give it to them so they can see when everything is happening. Remind them about what they can expect when they go through security screening, and avoid leaving them out of conversations. At the same time, don’t overwhelm them with too many questions or decisions at once.

Keep it Familiar

One of the best ways to ensure your travels go smoothly is to keep things as familiar as you can. That means sticking as closely to the routine that your loved one has at home as possible. While this can be tricky on days where you’re actually traveling, you can still keep a similar schedule with eating times and bedtimes.

Be sure to pack the things your loved one uses every day- like their favourite pyjamas, a special pillow, bedside candle, or anything else that will make them feel secure.

Many people with dementia travel successfully every day. By using the above tips, you’ll be able to ensure that your trip goes as smoothly as possible, and you and your loved ones have a lovely time.

 

Would you like to learn about how we can care for your loved one at Scalabrini? Get in touch today.

Elderly Independent Woman Sitting in Electric Chair with her Dog in her Lap

The Benefits of Pet Therapy for People Living with Dementia

You’ve probably seen plenty of seeing-eye dogs and other service dogs over the years. But did you know that animals can also be hugely beneficial for people living with dementia? Pet therapy is now being integrated into many dementia care strategies for this reason, so read on to learn about how this type of therapy works, and why it’s so beneficial.

What is Pet Therapy?

Pet therapy involves the use of dogs and other animals to help people cope with health problems, and recover from diseases and disorders.

For people living with dementia, this therapy involves guided interactions between the individual, a trained animal, and the animal’s handler. Some of the therapeutic experiences can include petting, brushing, walking, and caring for the animal.

Many studies have found a link between pet therapy and an overall improved emotional well-being and positive outcome in people with behavioural issues, medical conditions, and autism. This therapy can be either individual or in a group setting and is sometimes also led by a qualified therapist.

Pet therapy began in the early 1990s, so it’s a relatively new type of therapy. However, it quickly gained a wide acceptance within mainstream psychology, and many universities around the world are now offering graduate courses in animal and pet-assisted therapy.

The Benefits of Pet Therapy for Seniors living with Dementia

There are many well-documented pet therapy benefits for people living with dementia, and it’s easy to see why this therapy is becoming more and more popular amongst therapists and aged-care providers. One randomised, controlled trial involved dog-assisted therapy for 60 people living with dementia. All participants in the trial significantly increased their pro-social behaviour and reduced behavioural disturbances while interacting with the dog. Neuropsychiatric symptoms were also reduced.

Some of the known benefits of pet therapy include:

• Improved joint movement and motor skills
• Improved independent or assisted movement
• Increased self-esteem
• Improved social skills
• Increased verbal communication
• Improved interactions with others
• Increased willingness to take part in activities
• Decreased depression
• Decreased isolation and loneliness
• Reduced boredom
• Increased willingness to exercise
• Reduced anxiety
• And more

For people living with dementia, loneliness, depression, anxiety, and confusion are common. Pet therapy can help reduce these symptoms and remove some of the anger, helplessness, and frustration experienced by those living with dementia as their condition progresses.

One study evaluated pet therapy at an adult care center for elderly people living with dementia. The results showed that when individuals were involved in activities with the dogs, their feelings of sadness and anxiety decreased, and they experienced more positive emotions and increased their physical activity.

One of the biggest benefits of pet therapy is that the increased mental stimulation from interacting with the animals also increases memory recall. Those living with Alzheimers and dementia are also able to sequence temporal events more easily and are automatically more relaxed as oxytocin, prolactin, and serotonin are released.

How to Get Started with Pet Therapy

Most of the studies involving pet therapy were conducted in care facilities. However, many of the same benefits can be found with a pet at home. If you have a family member with dementia living at home, you may want to consider getting a pet.
This may mean a little more work remembering to feed and care for the pet. But in exchange, a furry friend will help provide your loved one with companionship, reduce their agitation and anxiety, give them an excuse to get some exercise and improve their social interactions.

Therapy dogs for dementia are currently being used throughout Australia, and for a loved one with more advanced dementia, actual pet therapy may be the best option. PAWS Pet Therapy is a not-for-profit charitable organisation providing pet-assisted therapy visits for people living with dementia, and those with disabilities, mental health issues, and more.

The Pets As Therapy (PAT) program has been offered by Guide Dogs ACT/NSW for more than 30 years, and these dogs can be placed within the home or within residential facilities.

The Delta Society also has an excellent Therapy Dogs program which involves visits to both children and adults in nursing homes and hospitals throughout the country.

As you can see, there are many options if you’d like to get started with pet therapy.

Senior man in black t-shirt looking off-camera with a concerned expression. scar on left cheek from melanoma removal.

Tips for Managing Changes in Behaviour in People Living with Dementia

If you’re caring for someone living with dementia, dealing with changes in their behaviour may be one of the biggest challenges. This behaviour may come seemingly without warning and can be overwhelming, frustrating, and exhausting for all involved.

While everyone can from time to time become frustrated and angry when their needs are not met, people living with dementia while no different, may not be able to control negative behaviour due to the brain damage that is occurring as a result of their dementia. These changes can cause them to react for seemingly no reason, which can be surprising, discouraging, and hurtful if you’re not expecting it.

Certain behaviours can also be attributed to how a person is perceiving their world. They may be feeling overstimulated by their environment, loud noises, or unfamiliar people. They could feel lost, or they may just have a time of day (typically night) where they struggle to control their anger and frustration.

Often, people living with dementia may be experiencing physical pain, and unable to identify the source of pain or explain it to you. They may also be hungry, thirsty, tired, or dealing with side effects from their medications. As they lose cognitive function, they may be more likely to express their physical discomfort through anger and aggression.

Sometimes, when people with dementia become angry, they’ll throw things, yell, scream, hit, kick, push, and swear (even if they’ve never sworn in the past). While you’ll often see warning signs, at other times the behaviour will seem to come out of the blue- which can be difficult to cope with. Since dementia can cause personality changes, you may feel like you don’t even recognise the person you’re caring for.

While you may not be able to stop your loved one from feeling angry and frustrated, you can manage that anger effectively. Here are some tips to help:

Reduce decision making

Humans make an average of 35,000 decisions each day. Of course, many of these are subconscious, or small, seemingly inconsequential decisions such as which shirt to wear to work. For someone living with dementia, however, these decisions can quickly become overwhelming as they lose cognitive functions.

At the same time, they should still have the right to make simple decisions. Instead of asking them to choose an outfit from a closet bursting with clothes, lay out their clothes and ask them to choose between two different shirts. At lunch, give them two options instead of a whole menu. This will reduce feelings of being overwhelmed, which lead to anger and frustration.

Focus on the environment
No one does well when they need to focus in a loud, noisy, distracting environment. Challenging environments can make aggressive dementia worse. Have you ever noticed that you tend to turn down the radio when you’re driving to a new address? That’s because reducing noise gives you a boost in focus and makes it easier to concentrate.

For people living with dementia, a calm, relaxed environment can help them stay emotionally centred, and reduce the chances of being overwhelmed- and the resulting angry outburst.

Avoid arguing

No matter how much you argue with someone living with dementia, you’re never going to win. This is because they simply see the world differently than you do, and many of their thoughts, feelings, and actions may not be clear to you.

Instead of challenging your loved one about their position, take the time to listen. If they’re refusing to complete a task, consider why they may not want to do it. If it’s something they should really do (like brush their teeth), leave it alone for twenty minutes and then revisit it. You’ll often find that their position has changed and they’re in a more responsive mood.

Stick to a routine

Routines help reduce the number of decisions (and amount of thinking) needed for both you and your loved one every day. Often, changes in behaviour can be managed by simply ensuring they know what to expect throughout their day, so they feel calm and relaxed.

Ensure that the things they need on a daily basis are in the same place for them each day. If they tend to forget how to do some tasks, leave basic instructions around the house so they can remember how to do them without needing to ask for help.

Communicate well

We all know how important communication is in any relationship- but clear communication is even more important when you’re caring for someone living with dementia. Consider how you’re interacting with your loved one. Consider whether your instructions are as clear as they can be. Are they easy to understand? Do you tend to say too many things or ask too many questions at once? Are you allowing them enough time to respond to questions?

At the end of a long day, you may be feeling tired, irritable, and stressed. However, someone living with dementia may pick up on these feelings and respond accordingly. Whenever possible, keep instructions and communication to short, clear sentences. Avoid being overwhelming, and you’re likely to notice that the person living with dementia is calm and content.

It’s absolutely normal to need support if you’re dealing with changes in your loved one’s behaviour. If you’d like to learn about their options for care, get in touch today.

Elderly woman with drugs in bed

How People Living with Dementia can Improve their Sleep Patterns

For people living with dementia (and their caregivers), night time can be the most challenging part of the day., dementia disrupts brain functions, and can cause confusion, memory loss, and changes in sleeping patterns. Dementia sleep disorders are common, and people living with dementia are more likely to have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep throughout the night.

No one is at their best when they’re not getting enough sleep, and for those living with dementia, the condition is often worsened by sleep deprivation, which increases lethargy, confusion, and irritation.

Dealing with evening agitation

People living with dementia may become more restless and agitated in the evening.

Some studies have found that approximately 20% of people living with dementia and Alzheimer’s experience increased agitation, anxiety, and confusion which begins late in the day. There are a number of factors which contribute to these changes in behaviour, including:

  • Physical and mental exhaustion at the end of the day
  • A confused ‘internal body clock’ which means a mix-up between night and day
  • Increased shadows and reduced lighting when the sun goes down, which causes some people to become afraid and confused
  • Reactions to tired, frustrated caregivers at the end of their own long days
  • Disorientation
  • Less need for sleep due to aging
  • Changes due to brain damage
How to promote healthy sleep patterns

Sleep deprivation is torturous, and it can make an already difficult situation much more stressful for caregivers. There are many things you can do to help improve sleep patterns so everyone can get more rest:

Encourage exercise

Exercise is hugely beneficial for people living with dementia, and it’s also a great opportunity for them to socialise and enjoy the outdoors. Make sure that this doesn’t occur any later than four hours before they’re due to go to sleep.

Sunlight exposure

Low levels of Vitamin D can impact on a persons mood and thinking abilities. If you’ve ever had jetlag, you’ll know how beneficial sunlight can be at combatting it. The same is true for people living with dementia, and you should encourage your loved one to spend some time in the sun (with an SPF) in the morning.

Since people living with dementia have a confused circadian rhythm, time in the sun can help reset their internal clock, increase alertness, and lower their risk of falling.

Stick to a schedule

A systematic routine can help reduce sleep disturbances and help with 24 hour reality orientation (orientation to the time and activity of the day). When people living with dementia have a proper routine and perform the same activities at the same time each day, they’re more likely to have a better night’s sleep.  

Customise their diet

A nutritious diet is important for everyone, but people living with dementia can find it easier to sleep if their diet is supplemented with certain types of foods. Dementia sleep disorders can be lessened by eating foods rich in calcium, which can be found in dairy products like cheese and milk. That’s because calcium triggers melatonin, a sleep hormone. Grains like oatmeal raise blood sugar which can also promote sleepiness.

At the same time, people living with dementia should avoid caffeine particularly in the afternoon, tobacco, and alcohol.

Use their bed for sleep

These days, it’s common for people to watch TV and use electronics like phones, laptops, and iPads in bed. However, the blue light emitted by these devices can make it more difficult for people to fall asleep. Encourage your loved one to keep their bed just for sleeping, and if they want to watch TV or do any other activities, these can be done in another room.

Take medication wisely

Make sure you understand how each type of medication works, so they can be given at the right time of day. You wouldn’t want to give someone a stimulant after dinner for example.

While it may seem like sleeping pills are a good option, these can lead to increased confusion, and risk of falls, and make it more difficult for people living with dementia to care for themselves.

As you can see, dementia can have a massive impact on your loved one’s sleep patterns. By following the above tips, you’ll be better prepared, and can help them get as much sleep as possible.

If your loved one is thinking about aged care, get in touch for a chat today.

 

Portrait Of Happy Senior Woman Enjoying Music With Headphone At Home

How Music Boosts Brain Activity for People Living with Dementia

According to experts from Johns Hopkins, few things simulate the brain like playing and listening to music. One otolaryngologist describes it as a ‘total brain workout,’ and experts around the world continue to try to understand how our brains perceive music.

Listening to, and playing music is great for everyone, but it’s particularly helpful for people who have brain injuries and dementia. In fact, studies have shown that those living with dementia who listen to music are able to better recall memories, along with the emotions that are attached to those memories.

To understand how this happens, you first need to know how your brain processes music.

How music impacts the brain

Music therapy activities work so well because they stimulate brain activity. One of the most interesting factors for people living with dementia is that music is represented throughout our brains- not just within one part. That’s because we don’t just process music as sound- it also represents vision, language, movement, and emotion.

Music is processed in these brain areas:

Corpus Callosum – This connects the right and left hemispheres of our brains.

Sensory Cortex – This is where we get tactile feedback from dancing and playing an instrument.

Motor Cortex – This is impacted by movement like dancing, tapping a foot, and playing instruments.

Auditory Cortex – This is where we perceive and analyse tones.

Hippocampus – This is where music is connected to our memories.

Prefrontal Cortex – This is the part of the brain involved with expectations.

Visual Cortex – When we read music, watch a performance, or watch ourselves moving, the visual cortex is involved.

Nucleus Accumbens – This is where humans process their emotional reactions to music.

Cerebellum – This part of the brain is also impacted by movement, along with the emotional reactions that we have to different music.

Music as therapy 

When we look at all the areas of the brain that are impacted by music, it’s easy to see why music is being used as a type of therapy for people living with dementia and Alzheimer’s. Music therapy for those living with dementia is particularly helpful, as it has been shown to improve mood, improve social interactions, reduce agitation, and facilitate cognition. It can also help stimulate remote memory, which helps reduce the amount of confusion that those living with dementia experience within their immediate environments.

In a study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, participants were given a 10-week music coaching program, which involved either listening or singing to familiar songs.

Singing was beneficial for executive function, working memory, and orientation- particularly for people who had mild dementia or were younger than 80.

Simply listening to music only had cognitive benefits for those with advanced dementia, however, both listening and singing helped reduce symptoms of depression for people at all stages.

Music therapy for elderly people is hugely beneficial since it helps to ease anxiety, agitation, and distressing behaviour. One study found that when music is personalized to the listener, it can reduce the use of anti-anxiety and antipsychotic medication.

The study was for six months, and more than 13,000 long-term nursing home residents were studied. Their results were compared to almost 13,000 residents from other homes who didn’t participate. Many of the residents who participated in the program were able to discontinue their antipsychotic medication, and behavioural problems also decreased.

Music therapy in dementia care can make a massive difference in people’s lives. Not only does it help them connect to memories, but it also helps with depression and boosts brain activity in a number of ways. Music therapy activities are not only enjoyable, but they’re also a workout for the brain. Dopamine is increased, which is one of the feel-good chemicals of the brain. When playing with other people or watching live music, oxytocin is also naturally released, helping patients to bond with others.

Memory loss is often one of the worst symptoms for those living with dementia and Alszeimer’s. But music actually helps improve memory. Music for people living with dementia is hugely beneficial for both the individual and their loved ones, and the power of music shouldn’t be underestimated.

At Scalabrini, we believe in offering music therapy for seniors. Get in touch today to learn more about our programs.