Body and Mind

Music brings dementia patients back to present

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 Music has the power to activate neural pathways in the brain, eliciting emotions and memories otherwise lost to conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, the experts say.

According to Registered Music Therapist and Managing Director of music therapy company Music Beat, Dr Vicky Abad, the power of music is phenomenal.

“Music is a window into people’s pasts,” she said. “It builds on strengths and abilities against a disease that can strip a person of their dignity, abilities and quality of life.”

Dementia currently affects more than 420,000 Australians. Dementia Australia expects that this number will rise to more than 810,000 by 2054[1].

Music performer Tamsin Sutherland

The team at TriCare Aged Care and Retirement sees the impact this cruel condition has on its residents and their families every day.

They’ve also experienced first-hand the impact music has on residents, many noticing ‘unrecognisable’ changes in personality when a nostalgic tune is played.

TriCare Upper Mt Gravatt Aged Care resident Louis Rose has had dementia for six years. The 80-year-old requires assistance with almost everything, but listening to music is one thing he can enjoy on his own.

“I grew up in Mauritius and while we didn’t have a lot, we certainly had music. Listening to music has always been an escape for me and a way to relax,” Mr Rose said.

“When your brain starts to slow down and you find yourself forgetting things, it can be quite frustrating and confusing.

“Listening to music has been a way to distract myself from what’s going on in my head, it has helped me so much.”

Tamsin Sutherland is a regular live music performer at TriCare facilities across Queensland. The Star Powers Production staffer has witnessed residents ‘come alive’ to favourite tunes.

“I perform several different shows, each one different from the next, so no matter who’s in the audience, they’re always getting something new,” Ms Sutherland explained.

“My one-woman shows include songs and dances from old movies that are familiar and nostalgic to residents.

“It’s all about getting them involved by featuring music from an era they know and love.”

Ms Sutherland loves nothing more than witnessing the magic of music.

“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 part of that is quite emotional for me.”

Those with a family member dealing with dementia, will know that the afternoons and evenings are usually the most challenging.

According to Dr Abad, music can help prevent the restless behaviour that often leads to pacing and wandering.

“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,” she noted.

“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”.

For more on Dementia and Specialised Care and further information on TriCare’s Aged Care Residence and Retirement Living, visit or say hello to one of their friendly staff today.

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