Music Therapy

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How is Music Therapy used with elderly people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of Dementia? Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia in the United Kingdom, affecting approximately 417,000 people. First described by German neurologist Alois Alzheimer, Alzheimer’s ‘can be considered as being the most important of the degenerative diseases because of its frequent occurrence and devastating consequences.’ The disease is a progressive one which means that once patients have the illness it will only get worse and not better. Early signs of the disease include short term memory loss and difficulty in finding the right words. As the disease gets worse, the number and severity of the symptoms increase. These include symptoms such as ‘disorientation in time, a tendency to become lost in familiar surroundings, difficulty in recognising objects and people (even those dearest to them), an inability to carry out previously familiar tasks, loss of speech and the progressive deterioration in all mental functioning.’ It is not yet known a single cause for Alzheimer’s disease. It is thought that it is a result of ‘a combination of factors including age, genetic inheritance, environmental factors, diet and overall health condition.’ It is believed that out of all these symptoms age plays the biggest part. Alzheimer’s disease affects the nervous system in the brain and gradually destroys the neurotransmitters of the brain which carry messages from the brain to the rest of the body. ‘The destruction of these parts cause protein clumps to form around the brain cells. These clumps are known as plaques and begin to gradually break down more connections between the brain cells which cause the symptoms of the disease to worsen’. Diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease can be quite difficult as it has similar symptoms to a number of other illnesses such as vitamin deficiency, thyroid problems, drug misuse and having a brain tumour. More often than not the process of diagnosing Alzheimer’s involves the ruling out of other illnesses such as those mentioned above and being left with Alzheimer’s as the only remaining option. Currently there is no cure for Alzheimer’s and treatments that are given are only able to slow down the progress of the disease and are not able to stop the illness of improve it in any way. The medication that is prescribed includes drugs such as Aricept, Exelon and Reminyl. These work by maintaining a chemical in the brain called acetylcholine. It has been found that people who suffer from Alzheimer’s have a lower level of this chemical in their brain and so by maintaining the current levels of acetylcholine the progress of the disease is sometimes slowed down. Alzheimer’s disease not only affects the person who has the illness but also has a great impact on those who are around them who end up having to care for them. It can be a difficult process for all involved. Music therapy has recently been used as a form of treatment for the sufferers of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. The definition of Music Therapy according to the Association of Professional Music Therapists is the following: Music therapy provides a framework in which a mutual relationship is set up between client and therapist. The growing relationship enables changes to occur, both in the condition of the client and in the form that the therapy takes. . . . By using music creatively in a clinical setting, the therapist seeks to establish an interaction, a shared musical experience leading to a pursuit of therapeutic goals. These goals are determined by the therapist’s understanding of the client’s pathology and personal needs. (AMPT 2000a) Music therapy is a relatively new form of therapy that has only been recognised as a profession in recent years. Although it has only become recognised as a profession in recent years the connections between music and therapy has been around for a long time. The communication skill of patients...
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