Melissa Pate

Alzheimer’s Disease has a profound impact on conversational skills. Verbal fluency, comprehension and spontaneous speech, among other skills, deteriorate as the disease progresses until the speech becomes “empty” – a high proportion of words and utterances that convey no information. As caregivers and loved ones, we must learn to speak a new “language” and find a new way to communicate. Studies have shown that the portion of the brain that stores music memories is unaffected by Alzheimer’s. Music elicits long-forgotten emotions and gives access to moods, memories, and thoughts.

A recent study by Ayelet Dassa, PhD and Dorit Amir, DA, ACMT, explored the role of singing familiar songs in encouraging conversation among people with middle to late-stage Alzheimer’s Disease. What they found was that songs from the participants’ past elicited memories, particularly related to their social and national identity. Even more, the act of group singing encouraged spontaneous responses. After singing, group members expressed positive feelings, and a sense of accomplishment and belonging. What matters here is not just that there was music present, but that the music was personally meaningful.

Music therapists can aid in bridging the gap in communication, and by fostering communication, we foster connection.

If you would like to know more about our music therapy programming, please email Melissa Pate at mpate@kensingtonsl.com.

Ayelet Dassa, PhD, Dorit Amir, DA, ACMT, The Role of Singing Familiar Songs in Encouraging Conversation Among People with Middle to Late Stage Alzheimer’s Disease, Journal of Music Therapy, Volume 51, Issue 2, Summer 2014, Pages 131–153, https://doi.org/10.1093/jmt/thu007

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