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Alzheimer's disease and creativity
June 14, 2020

Music and Art Therapies May Help Alzheimer’s Patients

by Jennifer Bramen

Creative activities are powerful tools for promoting brain health in all people. They reduce stress, build emotional resilience, and provide healthy brain stimulation. All together, activities like playing music, painting, drawing, and building things will help promote a sharper, happier mind at all ages. Creative pursuits like music and art are neuroprotective, meaning they shield the brain against cognitive decline as you age.

Alzheimer’s Disease and Creativity

In patients with Alzheimer’s disease, therapies that harness the power of creative activities like music and art are yielding amazing results. There are countless stories about non-verbal dementia patients singing, making eye contact, smiling, and greeting people during and even after creative sessions. People report that music and art therapy trigger memories, stimulate communication, reduce agitation, and build confidence. These benefits can provide much needed connection between loved ones and other patients.

Researchers are still trying to understand what drives these observations. Music seems especially promising as it stimulates the brain widely, has been shown to trigger spontaneous recall of memories, and elevate mood in patients with dementia. The parts of the brain involved in producing basic music and art are largely spared by the disease, making patients capable of performing. These therefore become humanizing behaviors. Shared activities also enhance the social aspects, which are thought to power many of the results from these sessions.

Music and Art Therapy at PNI

The most engaging evidence that music and art therapy are beneficial comes from the personal stories. I interviewed Aarthi Ganapathi, a research coordinator at PNI with experience delivering music and art therapy to dementia patients.

Aarthi recalled one woman who was paralyzed from the neck down and non-verbal. She joined in during music sessions, vocalizing the beats. This gave her an opportunity to feel and express joy in a way was normally out of reach.

In another example, a group of patients was given an opportunity to show their paintings in a local art gallery. They felt a strong social bond with one another as they prepared for the event. The show gave them a sense of pride and as they shared their work and new friendships with loved ones.

Overall, music and art therapies give patients with dementia a sense of normalcy that is difficult to come by.

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About the Author

Jennifer Bramen PhD

Jennifer Bramen

Jennifer Bramen, PhD, is a Senior Research Scientist at the Pacific Neuroscience Institute Foundation. She works alongside clinician-scientists at the Pacific Brain Health Center to bridge the gap between the translational research pipeline and full clinical implementation. Dr. Bramen is also spearheading the Pacific Neuroscience Institute Foundation’s Neuroimaging Core, which provides neuroimaging-based biomarkers for clinical trials research.

Last updated: June 25th, 2020