In previous posts we discussed an overview of the different sensory stimuli, focusing on individual senses, and then covered more in-depth the Visual Sensory Stimulation in a subsequent post. This will focus on Auditory Stimulation.
Our ears probably provide us with our second most vibrant source of sensory stimulation. Our eyes allow us to enjoy the paintings of Rembrandt and the sculpture of Michelangelo. Our ears allow us to share in the genius of Mozart and Beethoven; to wake up to a symphony of birds on a spring morning.
Auditory stimulation for people with Alzheimer's and dementia is as effective for mood enhancement, relaxation, and cognition as it is for everyone else. The calming effects of music are well known. Farmers play music to their cows and the cows produce more and better milk. Music makes plants grow larger and healthier. Music is good for living things including people.
And it's not just music that benefits dementia patients (and everyone else, as well). The sound of water, from a babbling brook or from an artificial waterfall, is to the ear what a camp fire is to the eye. Both are mesmerizing and calming, as is the sound of a well-tuned bell or wind chime.
Sounds for the mind andthe brain
Natural sounds are probably the best for mood and meditation. A gentle rain, or the wind blowing through pine trees, can work magic. To stimulate cognition, a Mozart symphony is probably better. And the music that the Alzheimer's patient enjoyed when he or she was younger is best to stimulate reminiscence. Therefore, a variety of sound stimulation is important.
Sound doesn't have to be pleasing or melodic to be effective. Rattles and other percussion musical instruments are also good, especially if the Alzheimer's patient is playing them. The physical activity and the stimulation of listening to and following a rhythm both add to the benefits of the passive auditory stimulation. Even 'white noise' has been shown to improve memory in Alzheimer's patients.
Ways to use auditory stimulation
Sound stimulation can be used in various ways and with various affects.
Reminiscence Music Therapy - An 'oldie' comes on the radio - something you listened to in high school, and suddenly you're back, cruising with your teenage sweetheart; maybe you're on the way to the Friday night sock-hop, or to the football game. Life is good, as it so often is in reminiscences. Anyway, you know what it is like to have your memory jogged by an old song. It's the same with people with Alzheimer's. Familiar music is stimulating on several levels, and is a strong and important component of a comprehensive reminiscence therapy routine.
Participatory Music and Rhythm - If the patient plays a musical instrument, help them to enjoy doing that as long as possible. Sounds produced on an electronic keyboard can be pleasing to them even if those sounds don't come together in recognizable tunes. Sing-alongs are fun and can stimulate memory (see the letter in the box below). Sing-alongs are fun when done with a leader, but can work with recorded music also. Rhythm sessions using drums, rattles, bells, washboards, sticks, etc. can accompany a sing-along, recorded music, or follow a leader. These percussion instruments can be found or made from things around the house. A water bottle filled with beans or gravel is a rattle. A coffee can is a drum. An oatmeal box is a drum with a different sound.
Background Sounds and White Noise - Stimulating sound or music playing in the background while other activities are going on improves the mood, and even the memory, of people with all forms of dementia. This background sound can be reminiscence music, classical music, recorded sounds of nature, or a table top fountain or waterfall. There are many recordings of natural sounds available, recordings of ocean waves, waterfalls, bird songs, or rain. These recordings of ambient sounds are very good sleep and relaxation aids.
Exercise to Music - Use music to accompany exercise or movement as you would in an aerobic class, or to encourage patients to dance. In a group, dancing is a social activity that is also exercise and can involve touching, or tactile stimulation. Physical exercise and reminiscence are two powerful tools for the management of Alzheimer's, and combing the two will undoubtedly result in an enjoyable activity. Big band tunes, many of the old jazz standards, and even early rock-and-roll will be recognized, and the beat will inspire motion. This natural connection between music and motion is the reason that most exercise videos have music tracks to accompany the exercise.
Bringing music into the home can create a harmonious environment in more ways than one!