Listening to music, or making music yourself, reduces behavioural problems and restlessness in people with dementia. ‘Music helps elderly people with dementia to relax’, explains UMCG researcher Annemieke Vink. ‘You use specific parts of your brain to speak, and those are the skills that you tend to lose with dementia. Listening to music activates many more parts of the brain. Music thus appeals to people very directly and helps them to express themselves.’ According to Vink, care for demented people would benefit from more attention to music as a means of creating rest, relaxation and contact. Vink was awarded a PhD by the University of Groningen for her research on 6 May 2013.
Vink’s research has revealed that music therapy results in less problem behaviour among dementia patients in nursing homes. They display less of an urge to wander away, are less restless, scream and swear less, eat and drink better, their social and emotional functioning improves, and they have an increased sense of wellbeing.
Care for people with dementia is mainly provided by nursing homes and informal care providers. As the ability to speak declines, the opportunities to make contact decline too. In addition, problem behaviour often increases with advanced dementia. In Vink’s opinion, music and music therapy are a good way of improving the wellbeing of people with dementia. ‘At the moment, between 60 and 80 music therapists are working in nursing homes’, says Vink. ‘About 80% of people with dementia develop problem behaviour as their disease progresses, including physical aggression, general restlessness and that continual wandering around the ward.’
‘Care for people with dementia is strongly directed towards medication. The effects are regularly unpredictable, and some patients become even more restless’, according to Vink. The music therapy whose effects she investigated comprises 40 minutes of listening to music, singing songs together and musical improvisation twice a week. She is in favour of music being introduced on a much greater scale in the daily care plans for people with dementia. ‘It could also work in informal care situations’, thinks Vink. ‘It means a lot to informal care providers to see their loved one become calmer and more relaxed under the influence of music.’
Recently, a large-scale Delta Plan for Dementia was launched in the Netherlands. With the help of public-private funding, this plan aims to develop innovative initiatives to counteract the increasing social pressure of care for people with dementia. Vink hopes that this plan will pay serious attention to continuing to develop effective care for people with dementia, including music therapy. ‘We have discovered, for example, that if people with dementia are woken to music they are much calmer. If you ensure right from the start of the day that agitating stimuli are avoided, then that will affect the rest of the day’, explains Vink. ‘It would be great if such initiatives were further supported by more research.’
Annemieke Vink (Zwolle, 1970) studied Psychology at the University of Amsterdam. She conducted her PhD research at the Department of Geriatric Medicine of the University Medical Center Groningen (UMCG) under the supervision of Prof. J.P.J. Slaets and Dr S.U. Zuidema. The research was funded by ZonMw, Alzheimer Nederland, Menzis, the Health Insurers Innovation Fund, the Triodos Foundation, the Rens Holle Foundation, the now defunct Buma Stemra Music Therapy Fund, and the Burgerweeshuisfonds Meppel. In March 2013 she published the book Muziek en bewegen bij dementie [Music and movement with dementia], which she wrote with H. Erkelens and L. Meinardi. Vink is a teacher of music therapy theory at the ArtEZ Conservatorium in Enschede. Her thesis is entitled ‘Music therapy for dementia. The effects of music therapy in reducing behavioural problems in elderly people with dementia.’
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