Vail Daily column: Music therapy can benefit Alzheimer’s patients |

Vail Daily column: Music therapy can benefit Alzheimer’s patients

Judson Haims
My View
Judson Haims

At some point in our lives most of us were taught about the five senses: sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing. Each of these senses are hard-wired into our nervous system and thus into our brain.

Music has the potential to evoke emotions, assist in recalling memories and even sooth an agitated person. Music is an incarnation of pure will. Often, music has a subconscious effect that makes us to tap our feet, hum, sing or use our muscles to move our body. Music is primal and perhaps that is why it has the ability to tap into and aid in Alzheimer’s disease therapies.


Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive illness that works to deteriorate the brain cells. There is no cure, and as the brain cells cease to function as they once did, many changes may take place with the patient. For example, memory, judgment, behaviors (increased aggression, agitation, etc.) and sleep may be affected.

Many of these factors are a direct result of the amount of the hormone melatonin, which can aide in one’s mood. One of the normal courses of treatment for behavioral problems in patients with Alzheimer’s disease is a regiment of psychotropic medications. Yet the evidence of the effectiveness of these drugs must be weighed against the long-term side effects, and also the lack of other therapies.

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As a result, many practitioners have continued to work at finding forms of therapy that will eliminate the side effects of psychotropic medications, as well as offer positive results in changing behaviors. This is where music therapy seems to be finding a home in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

Music therapy is used to motivate patients to continue their involvement in other therapies, and, often with some very specific goals, such as stress reduction, wellness, improve communication ability, etc. In addition, music therapy can help with management of pain and an overall satisfaction with one’s life, very similar to tai chi or yoga.


There have been numerous studies that have followed the effectiveness of music therapy on Alzheimer’s disease patients, and rather than citing the specifics of each study that I researched, let me summarize the findings.

Most of the studies gathered Alzheimer’s disease patients that presented behavior problems, such as agitation and/or aggression. The Alzheimer’s disease patients were subjected to different types of music at approximately the same time frame or during the same activity (i.e., bath time, meal time, etc.). Behaviors were recorded both before and after the music stimulation, and blood samples were drawn prior to the beginning of the study and again at the end.

Blood levels of certain chemicals known to be active in behavior and mood activation in the brain (for example, melatonin, serotonin, prolactin, norepinephrine and epinephrine) were reviewed. In all the studies I researched, what we would consider negative behaviors (agitation and aggression) were reduced and melatonin levels were increased. Moods were leveled out, or at least more relaxed, and sleep was improved. Also, an increase in cooperative attitude was noticed by the staff as was an improved participation in the activities that were being experienced while the music was being played.


Although no curative conclusions can be formulated about music therapy, it is clear that music therapy can positively increase the levels of the hormone melatonin in Alzheimer’s disease patients (at least in the majority of patients). This aids in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease by not only reducing unwanted behaviors, but also improving attitudes with regard to the patient’s approach to life.

Music therapy as a form of treatment for those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and forms of dementia can be summed up by this quote from a patient in one of the studies, “I don’t know how anyone can live without music.”

While music is visceral and has effects on our brain that are not completely understood, nor scientifically substantiated, clinically its effects have shown great success.

If you have a loved one suffering from cognitive impairment, research music therapy — you have nothing to lose.

Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. For more information, visit http://www.visiting or call 970-328-5526.

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