Tuesday, 13 June 2017

How Music May Help People with Dementia

Natural therapies aren't just about nutritional and herbal medicine, usually with some lifestyle advice added in. There are also many psychological and energetic healing modalities, each with their own benefits that food, nutrients and herbs may not be able to achieve alone. Music is one of them, as there is something about it that can light up various areas of the brain, including the nucleus accumbens (which releases dopamine), the amygdala (which processes emotion) and the prefrontal cortex (which makes decision-making possible). Because of all of these effects, researchers have been looking into music as a way to give at least some relief to people suffering from dementia.

Some examples of how music can benefit people with dementia were documented in the 2014 documentary Alive Inside, but researchers wanted to evaluate this in a scientific manner. They then decided to implement a "Music and Memory" program in 98 nursing homes, and compare the results to 98 nursing homes used as a control group. The endpoints they compared included the discontinuation of antipsychotic and antianxiety medication (if used), reductions in disruptive behaviour and improvements in mood. Over six months, dementia patients who got to listen to music personalised to their tastes had a 20% chance of discontinuing antipsychotics, compared to 17.6%. 57% had reduced behavioural problems, compared to 51%. Music can also bring back lost memories, especially if it is tied to their past.

Singing bowls. Source
Other research has found healing effects of sound too, this time with singing bowl sound therapy. An observational study on 62 people found that, using the POMS scale (Profile of Mood States), sound therapy had significant effects on tension, anger, confusion, fatigue and vigour. Using the HADS (Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale), depression and anxiety levels also dropped considerably. Spiritual wellbeing also increased. In another study described by the authors, which was a randomised cross-over trial, use of a singing bowl was more effective than silence alone in reducing blood pressure and heart rate before a guided visualisation. Yet another trial examined the effects of a crystal singing bowl on the body's electrodermal responses. Forty acupuncture meridian points on the patients' left hands and right feet showed increases and decreases respectively in electrical impulses. That study showed this effect with both "toning", where a Marcel Vogel crystal was held to chakra points on the subject's back, and playing a crystal bowl tuned to the note "F", which corresponds to the heart chakra. Everyone acted as their own control; while some people would prefer a separate placebo group, this could have an advantage as we are all individuals.

While it may be too new of a concept to be published in high-quality journals, a more informal trial conducted in Western Australia suggests that sound therapy with singing bowls may specifically help patients with dementia. The main endpoint was reductions in "agitation", involving aggression, verbal agitation (such as screaming and repetitive sentences) and physical non-aggressive behaviour (such as taking clothes off and handling objects inappropriately). After some time with recorded sound therapy, residents were more likely to be classed as non-agitated across all three categories. Case studies described some residents as having improved appetite and sleep, being more active and alert, and better verbal ability. From the findings so far, sound therapy looks like something that should be far more recognised, and more research is needed to both quantify and refine its effects.

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