5 ways to help ease dementia

64,000 people have dementia in Ireland. There is no cure, but there are ways to ease its symptoms
5 ways to help ease dementia

Music, dancing, painting can keep the brain active. Picture: Stock

As a study suggests music can be a miracle medicine for dementia patients, the Alzheimer’s Society outlines drug-free ways to ease symptoms.

There are 64,000 people with dementia in Ireland and the number will rise to over 150,000 by 2045. And there’s currently no cure for this devastating condition.

But there are ways to ease its symptoms, and a new report has concluded that music can play a “powerful” role in improving the lives of those living with dementia.

The Power of Music report, which follows a study by UK Music (ukmusic.org), the collective voice of the UK’s music industry, and the health and music campaign Music for Dementia (musicfordementia.org.uk), has stressed the extraordinary health benefits of music, and called for more to be done to help people fully appreciate its power.

“Sadly, we don’t have a cure for dementia, but we do have music to help address the symptoms, in order to help improve quality of life across the severity of dementia,” says Grace Meadows, campaign director for Music for Dementia.

She says that because we process music across the whole brain, not just in one region, as dementia develops, unaffected parts of the brain can still process music, and research has shown music therapy can reduce agitation and the need for medication in 67% of sufferers.

“Music is a conversation and it’s a powerful means of communication,” she stresses. “By working with music to help reduce the often-distressing symptoms of dementia - such as anxiety, apathy, depression and confusion - it enables people to contribute to and be part of a creative process that takes them out of their experience with dementia, connecting them to themselves, those around them and the world around them.”

The Alzheimer’s Society (AS) says music is one of the ways to treat dementia symptoms without using drugs, and Tim Beanland, head of knowledge at the AS, adds: “One of the best ways to help ease symptoms of dementia is by keeping active: physically, mentally and socially. Enjoyable activities such as music, song and dance can all help to improve wellbeing in people with dementia.

“Music and singing can bring back memories and alleviate low mood and anxiety, as well as promote communication. Perhaps most of all, it brings people together.”

The AS says the main non-drug treatments for dementia through ‘person-centred care’ are:

1. Cognitive stimulation therapy (CST): 

This is a range of activities which help keep the brain active, including puzzles, talking about the news, or doing something creative, like singing.

2. Cognitive rehabilitation: 

This involves a therapist helping dementia patients do activities they find difficult, such as learning or re-learning how to use household appliances or mobile phones. or managing daily tasks like cooking better. “It gets parts of the brain that are working to help the parts that aren’t,” says the AS.

3. Life stories and reminiscence:

 A way to improve the mood, wellbeing and memory of people with dementia. For example, a scrapbook, photo album or app may be used to record or talk about important things that have happened in someone’s life, to make the memories easier to remember and access. 

Reminiscence work uses photos, objects or music in a similar way, to get people talking about their past.

4. Music and creative arts: 

The AS says making music, dancing and painting can keep the brain active, and it recommends joining one of its Singing for the Brain groups.

Meadows stresses: “The benefits of music extend beyond the person living with dementia. We know those moments of connection with someone living with dementia can create a shared experience that enables people to be seen for who they are, beyond their diagnosis. It really can help to improve everyone’s mood.”

5. Complementary therapies: 

The AS says aromatherapy, massage or bright light therapy - where a person sits in front of a very bright light box every day to help regulate the circadian rhythm, which can be disrupted by dementia - can be used, as well as other standard treatments. It says people who are interested in trying complementary therapies for dementia should talk to their GP first, and should always make sure their therapist is properly trained.

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