Cognitive abilities, including language, are deeply affected by Alzheimer’s disease, which is a progressive neurological disease. Areas of language that are commonly affected include naming, fluency, comprehension, and spontaneous speech. Since communication is an important part of social interaction, these language problems often lead to isolation for people with Alzheimer’s disease. Something can be done to address these social and communication needs.
The quality of life can be improved for people with Alzheimer’s disease through increased social interaction and enabling them to remain socially engaged. One way to do this is by engaging them in conversations that, with appropriate prompts, enable them to recall and describe personal stories. Using music can help facilitate these conversations because of its strong association with memory. This association is so strong that old songs remain intact in people’s memories and they can continue to sing them, despite suffering from memory loss. The memories that remain intact are not just the melody and lyrics of old songs but also the experiences people associate with the songs, which can elicit emotions and thoughts.
Dassa & Amir (2014) wanted to explore how music, particularly familiar songs, can encourage conversations between people with middle to late-stage Alzheimer’s disease. During the music therapy sessions, a music therapist sang carefully-selected songs and invited the group members to join her in singing. After each song, the music therapist facilitated conversations with open-ended questions that related to the lyrics in each song. The purpose of each conversation was to evoke memories and elicit feelings about those memories.
The authors found that singing songs from group members’ younger years, especially relating to their social and national identity, produced the richest memories. They also found that singing as a group was a dominant topic of conversation and the act of singing inspired spontaneous comments. The emotions expressed were a sense of accomplishment and positive feelings, including improvement of mood.
The results of this study demonstrate that older adults with Alzheimer’s disease can continue to be engaged in social interaction and in conversations, especially through the aid of music. Isolation can be prevented and their quality of life can be improved.
Dassa, A., & Amir, D. (2014). The role of singing familiar songs in encouraging conversation among people with middle to late stage Alzheimer’s disease. Journal of Music Therapy, 51(2), 131-153.
Melissa Heffner, MT-BC