Using music to elicit lost memories

Old songs help TriCare residents living with dementia reconnect with their past.

Aged care and retirement living provider TriCare is using music to evoke memories from its residents living with dementia.

As multiple studies show, music activates neural pathways in the brain, eliciting emotions and memories otherwise lost to diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

Tamsin Sutherland

Tamsin Sutherland is a regular live performer at TriCare sites across Queensland and has witnessed residents come alive when they hear an old song being played.

“It’s all about getting them involved by featuring music from an era they know and love,” said Ms Sutherland. “Watching residents who are often non-verbal sing along to the words is incredible. It really is like they are coming back to life and reconnecting with who they once were. To be a part of that is quite emotional for me.”

As well as evoking lost memories, music can help calm restless conduct that often leads to pacing and wandering – behaviour known as sundowning.

Dr Vicky Abad

“Sundowning usually occurs in the late afternoon as dusk approaches, a time that is also associated with what used to be a busy time period in people’s lives,” said Dr Vicky Abad – a registered music therapist and managing director of music therapy company Music Beat. “Personalised music is a simple and effective tool to help residents feel validated in their emotions during this time and provides them an opportunity to experience a calmer state of mind.”

Louis Rose

TriCare Mt Gravatt resident Louis Rose has had dementia for six years. Although the 80-year-old requires assistance with almost everything these days, listening to music is something he can still enjoy on his own.

“When your brain starts to slow down and you find yourself forgetting things, it can be quite frustrating and confusing,” said Mr Rose. “Listening to music has been a way to distract myself from what’s going on in my head – it has helped me so much.”

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Tags: dementia, music therapy, Tamsin Sutherland, tricare, Vicky Abad,

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