Music therapy uses music to promote a person’s wellbeing. It uses an individual’s connection to music to spur positive changes in mood and mental health. Music therapists may use a variety of methods to support these outcomes, such as playing instruments, singing, or dancing.
Music therapy can enhance communication skills, confidence, and self-awareness, as well as concentration and attention. Oftentimes, improvisation is also incorporated into this form of therapy.
Music & The Brain
Music affects the mind in profound ways. Each aspect of effect is processed uniquely by a specific area of the brain. For example, the frontal lobes interpret emotional signals of music, while the cerebellum processes rhythm. When listening to especially powerful melodies, the reward center of the brain known as the nucleus accumbens can even trigger physical responses, such as goosebumps.
It’s, therefore, no surprise that experts have been seeking to leverage the power of music for centuries. The first instruments are believed to date back 40,000 years, and the use of music therapy has its roots in Ancient Greece. Today, music therapy spans several disciplines and can be found in social care, private care, and educational centers alike.
What Sets Music Therapy Apart
Because it doesn’t require verbal communication, music therapy is often a powerful alternative for people who struggle with verbal communication. People with dementia, for instance, are ideal candidates for music therapy. Music can also be played in any environment; for example, patients who can’t leave their beds can still enjoy music for its mood-boosting benefits.
What Are the Benefits of Music Therapy?
On the topic of benefits, there are several compelling advantages of this therapy, including:
Boosted memory skills
Improved ability to process complex emotions and memories
Stronger connections to others
Music releases dopamine, the feel-good hormone, which has short-term benefits on mood. It can also control stress hormones, including cortisol, to curb anxiety. It may be a particularly powerful tool to help children find fun and engaging ways to process thoughts and emotions.
Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, affects nearly 50 million people around the globe. That number is expected to more than double in the next 30 years without effective treatment. Currently, the treatments for dementia are only mildly effective. The few dementia medications that are available simply prolong the inevitable, slowing cognitive decline modestly.
Even with dementia medication, patients with Alzheimer’s disease and most other dementias have progressive memory loss. Over time they lose the ability to perform common everyday tasks. If patients live long enough, they will become dependent on others for all of their care. In this way, dementia is a devastating illness for loved ones.
Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias are neurodegenerative diseases, which means nerve cells in the brain become dysfunctional and die. As brain cells lose their ability to function, the person loses the abilities those nerve cells once performed. Since brain cells have little natural capacity to regenerate, once they are sick and die, that particular brain function may be lost forever.
Stem cells have long been an attractive potential option for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia treatment. Since brain cells become sick and die, the alternative option most recently looked at is to restore and replace those cells with stem cells—cells that can become brain cells? Indeed, stem cells may do so much more. They release countless molecules that help brain cells grow and survive. Not surprisingly, stem cells are the focus of intense research as a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative diseases.
Drs. Duncan and Valenzuela reviewed the current status of stem cells as a possible treatment for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. The research in animals has been incredibly promising. When stem cells are given to lab animals with experimental dementia, the stem cells find their way to the site of the disease and become new and healthy brain cells.
The research in animals has been so promising, that a number of Phase I and Phase II clinical trials in humans have been completed or are underway. From these trials, we know that stem cells appear to be safe for use in people with Alzheimer’s disease in that no serious adverse events were tied to stem cell use. It is too early to tell if these treatments will change the course of the disease until results are published. For now, we remain cautiously optimistic that the incredible effects of stem cells seen in animals may also translate to the same benefits in humans.
Reference: Duncan T, Valenzuela M. Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and stem cell therapy. Stem Cell Res Ther. 2017;8(1):111. Published 2017 May 12. doi:10.1186/s13287-017-0567-5
Maintaining proper nutrition is essential for optimal health. Our bodies need more than 30 vitamins and minerals to operate, with these nutrients supporting a host of processes including:
Tissue production and regeneration
Red blood cell production
Formulating chemical messages
While getting adequate amounts of these vitamins and minerals is important for supporting key body-wide mechanisms on a daily basis, it’s also critical for safeguarding our future health. Nutrition helps us minimize the risk of many serious conditions, one of which is dementia.
Can Nutritional Deficiencies Cause Dementia?
In some elderly patients, healthy dietary practices aren’t always
closely followed. This can lead to certain nutritional deficiencies, which can
actually cause cognitive impairment over time. Research shows certain forms of dementia
can be a direct result of deficiencies in specific vitamins, minerals, or
other nutrients. Here are a few nutrients in particular that are necessary for
Vitamin B12: Without ample B12, the frontal lobes of the brain become altered, resulting in cognitive or behavioral changes. The vitamin, therefore, supports brain health while playing an important role in maintaining healthy blood and nerve cells. It also aids in the production of DNA. Animal food sources are often rich in B12, including dairy and meat.
Niacin: B3 or niacin helps to control cholesterol levels. Elderly individuals are especially at risk of developing pellagra, a B3 deficiency characterized by dementia, dermatitis, and diarrhea. Enriched cereals, seeds, poultry, and redfish are good sources of the vitamin.
Thiamin: Also known as vitamin B1, a deficiency in thiamin can cause damage to the nerves and muscles, including the heart. Thiamin also has such a profound effect on cognitive function that some researchers speculate the vitamin could benefit Alzheimer’s patients, but further studies are needed to support this theory. Thiamin is commonly found in eggs, nuts, seeds, beef, and enriched grain products, such as cereals.
In addition, insufficient hydration
can lead to nutrition-oriented dementia.
Beyond cognitive symptoms,
nutritional deficiencies may also manifest physically in the following ways:
Numbed sense of touch
Fortunately, these and other nutrition-oriented symptoms can
be avoided with a healthy,
well-rounded diet. In addition, certain individuals may benefit from
supplements if key nutrients can’t be acquired through diet alone. Talk to your
doctor if you think you could benefit from a supplement regimen.
For years, medical experts have warned of the medical concerns associated with opioids, including depression, weakened immune system, and digestive issues. Now, however, new research shows that they could be particularly dangerous for dementia patients.
The Dangers of Painkillers for Dementia Patients
According to research presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, opioid-based painkillers can triple the side effects of dementia. Individuals taking the drugs experienced more pronounced personality changes, significant increases in confusion and sedation, and lower activity levels throughout the day.
In another study, researchers focused exclusively on known as “Z drugs,” which are currently given to hundreds of thousands of patients with dementia to promote sleep. Drugs under this category included zolpidem, zopiclone, and zaleplon. Findings revealed that patients on these drugs faced an increased risk of bone fracture, which contributes to an increased risk of death in people with dementia.
A Widespread Problem
Alzheimer’s, which is the most common form of dementia, currently affects an estimated 5.7 million Americans. Roughly half of the people living in care homes and suffering from this or another form of dementia experience pain to some degree, which can result from unrelated medical conditions such as arthritis. Unfortunately, as dementia patients face compounding communication challenges, treating their pain can become more difficult.
The study has prompted experts to explore other, non-pharmaceutical means of treating pain and sleep disorders in dementia patients. Alzheimer’s research group leaders believe that the solution lies in finding nondrug interventions to help manage pain and promote quality of life while minimizing serious side effects like those revealed by the study findings. Regenerative therapy may be an option to consider for those battling Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
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