Freelance contribution by Jess Walter.
Every three seconds, someone in the UK develops dementia, a disease that currently affects 46.8 million people worldwide. Some of the most common treatments include medication, coping strategies (increasing comfort etc.) and non-drug approaches, two of which are music and art therapy. So-called ‘alternative therapies’ such as music recognise that a person is an individual who continues to have needs to express their thoughts and emotions, and to experience beauty through the arts. This post discusses the ways in which music and art can help those with dementia which is undoubtedly a big challenge to their health and wellbeing.
Success Achieved by Music Therapy
Research has shown that music therapy can help patients with dementia, particularly when it comes to lowering the effects of agitation, which can be defined as “inappropriate verbal, vocal, or motor activity that is not judged by an outside observer to result directly from the needs or confusion of the agitated individual.”
Agitation is present in between 20% and 80% of persons with dementia, and it can involve wandering, restlessness, repetitive bacts, and aggressive behaviour to oneself or others. It is considered one of the main features of behavioural and psychological signs of dementia, alongside anxiety, depression, irritability, and others.
A study published in May, 2017 inFrontiers in Psychologyfound that music therapy is an effective non-pharmacological approach to the issue of agitation.
Many other studies have shown promising results. One published in January, 2017 showed that a musical listening programme can have multiple benefits for adults in preclinical and early stages of dementia, including substantial gains in memory and cognition.
Another 2015 study carried out a Bournemouth University, meanwhile, found that a special orchestra for people with dementia helped boost their confidence and mood, but also lowered feelings of loneliness and allowed those who took part to learn something new while having fun.
The Power of Drawing
Drawing and painting can also serve an important purpose for people with dementia. Studies have shown that the ability to draw spontaneously and from memory may be preserved in artists’ brain long after severe dementia interferes with their ability to perform everyday tasks.
Art is used as a complementary therapy for dementia (in all stages) in many centers across the globe. Those who have never drawn before are often taught to draw simple shapes from nature, including flowers, animals, and trees. The results, indicate studies, is an improvement in mental acuity, sociability, calmness, and engagement. Positive changes have also been noted in depression, and in communication, both during art sessions and afterwards.
Music and art have a unique role to play in human life. They are a great pleasure for some, a hobby for others, and a necessity for those who are plagued by agitation and who can feel lost and alone as a result of dementia. Not only can those creating music and art express the pain of losing treasured memories and abilities one often takes for granted in one’s youth, but also enjoy a mindful pursuit in which, for a few precious moments, they can set aside their worries and focus on the beauty of life; of simply breathing, creating, connecting.