Help Alzheimer’s Patients With Nonmedical TherapyPosted on March 19, 2014 by ElderCare Resources in Alzheimers Care, Blog, Caregiver Education, Dementia Care, Education, Geriatric Care Management, Memory Loss
Written by: Dennis Thompson Jr. – Alzheimer’s & Dementia Society
Sometimes the best way to help an Alzheimer’s patient better enjoy life is to reach past the mind and touch the heart. That’s why doctors and caregivers recommend adding music, art, pets and a variety of other nonmedical therapies to traditional Alzheimer’s treatments.
Often, these pastimes can help people get past the anxiety, stress or depression caused by the Alzheimer’s.
“We do music therapy with my mother-in-law, who loves to sing,” says Kim Linder, 54, of Tampa, who is helping to care for her husband’s parents. “She gets very stressed and worried, and the music calms her down. She loves Broadway tunes, and sometimes she’ll even sing along.”
Because people often link songs to memories, music is a good way to help an Alzheimer’s patient reminisce in a nonstressful way. Music also can help alter a patients’ moods; an upbeat song might put a spring in their steps or a more sedate song might help them relax.
The following are some tips for using music to help a loved one with Alzheimer’s:
• Go for familiar music. Music from a person’s young adult years will most likely prompt the strongest responses. However, watch closely to make sure the music doesn’t provoke agitation due to an upsetting link to the person’s past.
• Try some new tunes. Unfamiliar music can be helpful because it isn’t linked to any memories. That way, caregivers can play happy or relaxing songs without worrying that it will trigger an emotional memory.
• Pay attention to tempo. Stimulating music with percussive sounds and quick tempos will promote movement and can help when trying to get Alzheimer’s patients to eat, bathe or get dressed. Sedating music with unaccented beats and slow tempos is good for calming purposes and can be used to help loved ones relax before bedtime or calm down after being agitated.
• Skip the commercials. Use only recorded music, as the radio might include commercials that would confuse the Alzheimer’s patient. Also be sure to limit competing stimuli by turning off the television and closing windows and doors.
Besides music, there are a number of other approaches that can bring enjoyment to someone with Alzheimer’s and help reduce some of their upsetting emotional reactions.
Pet therapy has been shown to reduce symptoms of Alzheimer’s-related depression and boost self-esteem. For the best results, make sure the person likes animals before bringing one around. Also, take care to match the right sort of pet to the person; someone with good coordination might enjoy taking an energetic dog for a short walk, but that pet wouldn’t be good for someone whose mobility is limited. A less mobile person might better mesh with a cat or a smaller, more mellow dog.
Art therapy can stimulate a person’s imagination and allow them to express feelings that are difficult to articulate. Be sure to keep the project on an adult level, be ready to help out if needed and make sure all materials are safe and nontoxic.
Religious activities can provide a feeling of peace to an Alzheimer’s patient and may help them stay connected to the world.
“My mother has a Sunday School group that she is strongly involved in,” says Karen McKeever, 52, a caregiver in Richmond, Va. “It’s a good way for her to get out of the house and it keeps my mom very social.”
Aromatherapy, or the therapeutic use of oil-based scents, is another means of drawing a person out through their senses.
“Aromatherapy is important because it helps bring memories and helps the person feel connected to nature,” Linder says.
Storytelling or scrapbooking also can be an engaging way to give an Alzheimer’s patient a lift. Find a quiet place in your home and try to engage your loved one by asking about the history behind old family photos or showing her pictures and asking her to come up with a story based around what’s seen in the picture.
The bottom line is that a variety of nonmedical therapies can be useful as part of an Alzheimer’s treatment plan. Try some of the ones mentioned here, or talk to your health care team for ideas about others that might be helpful to your loved one.
For information, contact the Alzheimer’s & Dementia Society at 435-319-0407 or visit www.alzsociety.com.