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Music Found to Bridge Divide Caused by Dementia

September 28, 2022 by Dan McCue
In the intervention, called “Musical Bridges to Memory,” a live ensemble plays music from a patient’s youth such as songs from the musicals “Oklahoma” or “The Sound of Music.” (Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash)

CHICAGO — Exposure to music from a dementia patient’s youth can create an emotional connection between patient and caregiver, according to a new study.

The findings suggest music can act as a bridge to interaction between caregivers and loved ones and people stricken with dementia, who often lose their ability to communicate verbally in the later stages of the disease.

The study, conducted by Northwestern School of Medicine researchers in collaboration with the Institute for Therapy through the Arts, looked specifically at an intervention developed by the institute called “Musical Bridges to Memory.”

What the researchers found was that as a live ensemble played music from a patient’s youth — the main activity in the intervention — patients and caregivers could interact via singing, dancing and playing along with simple instruments.

They also found the intervention enhanced patients’ social engagement and reduced neuropsychiatric symptoms such as agitation, anxiety and depression in both patients and caregivers.

“Patients were able to connect with partners through music, a connection that was not available to them verbally,” said lead study author Dr. Borna Bonakdarpour in a written statement.

Bonakdarpour, an associate professor of neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a Northwestern Medicine neurologist, went on to note that family and friends of people with dementia are also affected by the disease. 

“It’s painful for them when they can’t connect with a loved one. When language is no longer possible, music gives them a bridge to each other,” he said.

The researchers’ conclusions were published in Alzheimer Disease and Associated Disorders

Their findings are considered especially significant as most prior studies using music for dementia patients have focused exclusively on the patients.

More than 6 million people in the U.S. have Alzheimer’s disease. 

Dan can be reached at dan@thewellnews.com and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue.

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