Medications can’t stop the disease’s inexorable damage to the mind, and stress and agitation often remain challenging despite drug treatment. But a growing number of Alzheimer’s institutions and caregivers are realizing that a musical walk down memory lane — a dance class, storytelling session, art project, or museum tour — can do more than offer pleasant diversions. They can improve a number of disease symptoms as well as quality of life.
The basic idea is to use art to engage and connect with people with dementia. No matter how many memories they’ve lost, an essential piece of who they always were still remains.
Even people who were not artistic or music lovers in their youth can be inspired by the sound of a song they heard on their first date, or by a painting that evokes an emotion. Writers and poets also see their art as a way to reach people, regardless of age or prognosis.
One of the key benefits of doing or appreciating art is that it challenges people who are usually doted on.When you are cared for, you lose your sense of who you are. Everybody with dementia has a lot going for them. They can experience, they can be present, and they can develop.
Robert Stern, a professor of neurology and neurosurgery at Boston University, said a growing body of research is confirming the anecdotal evidence that the arts can improve quality of life, reduce stress, and allow the person to better connect to the world. Recent research suggests music can boost recall of personal memories.
Whether it be fine arts, music, listening to music, going to museums. All those things do not have an impact on the disease per se. What they do most likely is they get through to the person with Alzheimer’s by exploiting the areas of the brain which are least impaired. Anything that can touch the patient through that network of brain areas can have a profound impact.
Medications such as cholinesterase inhibitors may be able to slow some of the memory loss of Alzheimer’s and allow people to live independently longer. But all of the efforts to develop drugs to reverse memory loss and the behavioral changes of Alzheimer’s have failed so far. Researchers think that’s because the damage of Alzheimer’s begins years, if not decades before symptoms become obvious. They are now testing drugs in people likely to develop the disease, to see if they are more effective.
Instead of just warehousing dementia patients until more effective medications are discovered or patients die, our present challenge is to provide people with a life worth living while they’re alive.
Using music and art and movements that don’t rely on verbal skills allows people to succeed. The primary language is emotion with this disease.
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