Even though many people with dementia can no longer form new memories they can still feel pleasure in the moment. Since researchers have shown that music and color are two areas of life that continue to affect mood and cognitive activity long into dementia, they are key approaches used by many therapists. Music and color can also lighten the mood of a tired caregiver, so why not add some of each to this new year of caregiving?
Researchers from George Mason University in Virginia examined cognitive changes in people with dementia who were still able to vocalize. According to lead author Linda Maguire, musical aptitude and music appreciation are two of the last remaining abilities in patients with Alzheimer’s Disease.
For the study, controls were used, of course, and you can read an excellent article about this study on "Alzheimer’s and the effects of singing" if you choose to examine it further. For our purposes it’s enough to simply know that if your loved one is still vocally expressive, he or she may benefit if you have a family sing-along, using songs from the affected person’s young adult years.
The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA) devotes a section of its website to education and care through music. If you visit the site, you’ll find a breakdown on how to use music effectively in different stages of the disease. AFA reports that "when used appropriately, music can shift mood, manage stress-induced agitation, stimulate positive interactions, facilitate cognitive function, and coordinate motor movements."
If your loved one is still able to go to a live performance, try to attend something appropriate. This effort can make new memories for you, the caregiver, while your loved one enjoys the moment in time. If an outing is too difficult or stressful, then home music can provide some memories that you will cherish long after your loved one has passed on. I kept my dad well supplied with music from the big band era during the time he lived in a nursing home. I even bought him a director’s wand. We had some fun times with those props and entertained the nursing home staff as well. Making new memories can also include jointly participating in art therapy or other activities your loved one enjoys.
Add color to your life
Studies have indicated that 60 percent of the people with Alzheimer’s disease have decreased visual capacity and 40 percent experience weight loss. Depression, chewing and other eating difficulties were at first thought to explain the lack of interest in food. However, a Boston University study shows that using bright, colorful tableware increases food intake by 24 percent, suggesting that vision problems may be a factor. According to the study, the ability to see colors diminishes with age, and people with Alzheimer’s often have a hard time seeing contrast, which can make it tough to distinguish a plate from a table setting, food from a plate, or liquid from its container, such milk from a white cup.
Even caregivers are apt to find that they feel cheerier if they set a table with brightly colored tableware. An Internet search can offer up plates and cups as well as colorful knives, forks and spoons. Have a little fun if you can. You needn’t spend a lot, since many colorful place settings on the market are inexpensive plastic, though do be sure that glasses, cups and eating utensils are strong material that will not break if bitten.
The idea behind weaving music, color and other creative enhancements into caregiving is that no matter what our circumstances, these expressions of our humanity can help our lives become more than just a matter of going through the motions. The concept has been proven to be true for people with dementia as well as those who are cognitively sound.
Sources:\Erb, R. (2013, December 1) Alzheimer’s families make new memories together. Retrieved from http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/12/01/alzheimers-families-make-new-memories-together/3791865/
Withnall, A. (2013, November 11) Singing boosts brain activity in Alzheimer’s patients, scientists say. Retrieved from http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/singing-boosts-brain-activity-in-alzheimers-patients-scientists-say-8933021.html
Alzheimer’s Foundation of America. Music Therapy. Retrieved from http://www.alzfdn.org/EducationandCare/musictherapy.html
Alzheimer’s Weekly and Dementia Weekly (2013, November 14) Product of the week. Retrieved from http://astore.amazon.com/alzheimerswee-20/detail/B00BFEA474
Hitti, M. (2004, September 28) Colorful Tableware Helps Alzheimer’s Patients Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/alzheimers/news/20040928/colorful-tableware-helps-alzheimers-patients
Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran family caregiver who spent more than two decades caring for a total of seven elders. She is a newspaper columnist and the author of Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories. Bradley Bursack is also a contributor to several books on caregiving and dementia, and is passionate about preserving the dignity of elders. Her website is www.mindingourelders.com. Follow Carol on Twitter @mindingourelder and on Facebook at Minding Our Elders.