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Music therapy can help comfort people with dementia

Music therapy can help comfort people with dementia

Winnipeg Health Region
Wave, March / April 2014

For those suffering from dementia, life is often confusing and frightening.

But some caregivers are using music to ease the anxiety of their patients, with amazing results.

"We all know music is beneficial to the overall well-being of people of all ages," says Jan Legeros, Executive Director of the Long Term and Continuing Care Association of Manitoba (LTCAM). "People with advanced dementia can often communicate again when you introduce them to music they knew as children. Residents who were incommunicative have been brought back to the point of singing words. It's quite an amazing form of communication."

With people who have dementia, it seems music relieves some of the overwhelming anxiety that can prevent a person from communicating.

"Music takes the person to a place in time when they were happy," Legeros explains. "It allows them to take a break from the anxiety and fear they're feeling. They don't know where they are or who you are – it's very frightening for them. Music can help the families form a connection with the person again."

LTCAM will be promoting musical therapy at its 11th Annual Provincial Conference and Exhibition, "Journey," on May 6 at Winnipeg's Victoria Inn. It is one of several topics highlighted at the conference. Bev Foster, Executive Director of the Room 217 Foundation, will deliver a keynote address on the subject.

"We always try to provide presentations that are quite riveting, and experiences that are personal and touching," says Legeros. "Bev Foster will talk about her experience of caring for her dad at the end of his life. She calls her business Room 217 because that's the room where she said goodbye to him."

Foster was inspired to start a music therapy-centred business after seeing how music comforted her father during his struggle with Level 4 Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma.

"She certainly felt it helped him relax and see through his confusion and fear. She felt it was a huge benefit to him," Legeros says. "The audience can really relate to these personal stories because they're going through the same things. It's very helpful and cathartic."

In addition to her keynote address, Foster will be giving another presentation on how music can enhance connections for people with dementia.

Music isn't the only art form that can help caregivers connect. A presentation by Sue Hemphill and the Manitoba Institute for Artists + Community Collaboration focuses on the transformative power of artists working in long-term care.

"This presentation looks at the ways artists can reduce the anxiety and tension long-term care residents are feeling," says Legeros. "Whatever a resident is capable of, that is what the artist will bring to them, whether it's doing an activity or simply looking at art and having the artist talk to the resident about the work."

The LTCAM conference strives to provide emotional support along with the educational tools and tips. Author and motivational speaker Jody Urquhart will explain how to use humour to avoid burnout.

"Jody's presentation teaches caregivers how to leave their work behind and just think about themselves. It says, ‘You're special too and you have to think about how to take care of yourself to ensure you stay happy and healthy,'" Legeros says.

Other presentations include Geriatrician Services in Manitoba and Nurse Practitioners in Long Term Care.

Kenneth Brown's live play, "Minding Dad," about a son's journey to care for his father, is expected to be one of the highlights of the conference.

All presentations fit into the conference's overall theme, says Legeros.

"Life is a journey, and where it takes us is all about the choices we make along the way," she says.

Holli Moncrieff is a Winnipeg writer.

Wave: March / April 2014

About Wave

Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.

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