Dementia, characterized by severe impairment of the person’s intellectual capacity, emotional disturbance and personality changes, is caused by a number of different reasons such as the loss of neurons in the brain due to head injury, metabolic disorders, or even due to a tumor in the brain.
The human brain has 2 hemispheres — the left hemisphere and the right hemisphere. A large section of the person’s brain is usually damaged in a patient suffering from dementia. While the language skills of a person are exclusively controlled by the left hemisphere of the brain, music is perceived by many different parts of the brain rather than just one particular part of the brain since the different elements of music such as rhythm, pitch, and melody are all processed differently by distinct parts of the human brain. Therefore, it is capable of reaching the remaining healthy sections of the patient’s brain.
Music is received and processed by different brain stem cells and therefore, even severely demented people can respond to music. Music can be perceived and hence, used as a means of communication for people suffering from dementia, whose skills of comprehending or learning languages is severely impaired. When all other modes of communication fail to make any impact, music, with its non-verbal stimulant qualities, tends to penetrate the patient’s mind and makes possible some amount of social, emotional or cognitive connection. Symptoms such as agitation and confusion among those people suffering from dementia can also be soothed out by the relaxing and soothing effects of music.
The degree of familiarity, the degree of liking of the patient for that particular music and the memories associated with the music or the significance that the music holds for the individual are certain factors which define the extent of positive impact or beneficial effects of the music therapy. While a familiar music can elicit positive responses such as tapping of fingers and feet to the tune, humming, rhythmic movement of body organs with the music, or a change of expression on the face, unfamiliar music fails to register itself in the brain in the first place. Therefore, we cannot find positive effects in the patient when unfamiliar music is played during the music therapy sessions. Similarly, familiar setting can help the patient relate more to the place, and makes him feel more reassured and comforted.
The music therapist must be very careful about the pitch and the volume of the music used for therapy because even these factors have a great impact on the patient. While a high pitch and high volume can cause anxiety and pressure to build up, a low pitch makes them feel more relaxed.