Singing to Prevent Dementia Works, 1 New Research Reveals

Singing to prevent dementia has recently gained attention as a promising non-pharmacological intervention for individuals at risk of cognitive decline. This artful and accessible intervention is predicated on the idea that music can help to stimulate cognitive function, potentially slowing the progression of dementia and even, as some research suggests, preventing the onset of this debilitating disease. 

In the UK, dementia is a pressing public health issue. With over 850,000 people living with dementia as of 2021, the country faces an ageing population and an increasing disease prevalence. This challenge underscores the need for innovative, accessible, and potentially preventative strategies like singing to prevent dementia in a context where dementia is forecasted to be the leading cause of death by 2040.

This article will examine the research conducted by the NHS and Anglia Ruskin University, focusing on the potential of singing to prevent dementia. 

What is Dementia?

Dementia is a term used to describe a group of progressive neurological disorders that affect the brain, causing a decline in cognitive function. It is characterised by impaired memory, reasoning, language, and problem-solving abilities, making it difficult for individuals to perform daily activities independently. Although dementia primarily affects older adults, it is not normal for ageing

Some common symptoms of dementia include:

  1. Memory Loss

Forgetting recent events, conversations, or the names of familiar people and objects.

  1. Confusion

Struggling with time and place orientation, getting lost easily, or having difficulty recognising familiar surroundings.

  1. Language Difficulties

Problems with speaking, understanding, reading, or writing, including finding the right words or following a conversation.

  1. Agitation

Experiencing restlessness, irritability, mood swings, or sudden emotional outbursts. Agitation can be particularly distressing for the person with dementia and their caregivers, as it may lead to aggressive behaviour or resistance to support.

  1. Personality Changes

Individuals with dementia might exhibit shifts in their personality, such as becoming more withdrawn, irritable, or suspicious. These changes can be challenging for caregivers and family members to cope with and understand.

The impact of dementia on sufferers and their loved ones can be profound:

  1. Loss of Independence

As cognitive abilities decline, individuals with dementia may require assistance dressing, bathing, eating, and managing medications.

  1. Emotional Strain

The person with dementia may experience frustration, embarrassment, and depression due to their cognitive decline, while their loved ones may experience grief, stress, and guilt as they watch their family member’s condition worsen.

  1. Caregiver Burden

Family members and caregivers often face significant challenges in providing appropriate care and support for a person with dementia, including managing challenging behaviours, addressing safety concerns, and navigating the healthcare system.

  1. Financial Impact

The cost of care for people with dementia can be substantial, with expenses related to medical care, home modifications, and long-term care services placing a significant financial burden on families and society.

  1. Social Isolation

The person with dementia and their caregivers may experience social isolation due to cognitive decline and the demands of caregiving. It can lead to loneliness and reduced quality of life for everyone involved.

Singing Could Help Prevent Dementia and Reduce Agitation in Patients, Researchers Say

Singing has been shown to have potential therapeutic benefits, and recent research has explored the use of singing to prevent dementia or alleviate its symptoms, such as agitation. Two groundbreaking studies—one conducted by the NHS and the other by Anglia Ruskin University—have provided valuable insights into the potential benefits of singing for dementia patients.

The NHS trial involved dementia patients from two Cambridge and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust wards. Participants engaged in weekly music therapy for 14 weeks, including singing and playing instruments. This approach was led by a trained dementia therapist and aimed at reducing behavioural complications related to dementia.

The trial results showed a significant decrease in patient agitation. Agitation occurred less frequently on music therapy days compared to days without it. The findings suggest music therapy’s potential to reduce reliance on calming medications, which can have adverse effects.

Researchers at Anglia Ruskin University conducted a similar study, using musical activities to engage dementia patients and assess their impact on agitation. Like the NHS trial, the approach included singing to stimulate and soothe patients.

The university’s study revealed a substantial reduction in agitation incidents among participants. The research underscores the need to further explore music therapy as a beneficial tool in dementia care. Both studies collectively point to the potential of singing in preventing dementia and alleviating its symptoms.

Benefits of Singing for Brain Health

The power of music has long been recognised for its ability to evoke emotions, memories and create a sense of connection. In recent years, research into singing to prevent dementia or alleviate its symptoms has begun to uncover its numerous benefits on brain health and well-being. When we sing, especially as part of an initiative to sing to prevent dementia, we stimulate our brain and emotional centres, providing a holistic workout that can have lasting effects.

Some of the key benefits of singing to prevent dementia include:

  1. Cognitive Stimulation

Singing to prevent dementia could involve engaging multiple cognitive processes, such as memory recall, attention, and language processing, which can help keep the brain active and engaged. 

  1. Improved Mood

Singing to prevent dementia could help release endorphins, the “feel-good” hormones, increasing overall happiness and reducing stress and anxiety.

  1. Social Connection

Group singing to prevent dementia fosters a sense of belonging by promoting social interaction and collaboration. 

  1. Enhanced Respiratory Function

Singing requires controlled breathing and helps strengthen the respiratory muscles, leading to improved lung capacity and increased oxygen levels in the brain. Singing to prevent dementia is particularly beneficial, promoting brain health and overall physical wellness.

  1. Reduced Stress

Singing to prevent dementia can lower cortisol levels, the stress hormone, promoting relaxation and overall better mental health.

  1. Soothing Agitation

Singing to prevent dementia might involve familiar songs that can help calm and soothe people experiencing agitation, making it an effective tool for managing behavioural complications related to dementia.

  1. Improved Memory

Regularly singing to prevent dementia can help enhance memory recall, especially when remembering lyrics and melodies.

  1. Increased Self-Esteem

Mastering a new skill or improving vocal abilities through singing to prevent dementia programmes can boost self-confidence, particularly for those experiencing cognitive decline.

Tips for Memory Boosting and Dementia Avoidance

While there is no definitive cure for dementia, research suggests that certain lifestyle changes and activities, including singing to prevent dementia, can help boost memory and cognitive function, potentially delaying the onset of the disease or reducing its severity.

Here are some valuable tips for maintaining and improving brain health, and we offer suggestions for incorporating these practises into daily life.

  1. Stay Mentally Active

Engage in activities such as puzzles, reading, or learning a new skill that challenge and stimulates your brain, with singing to prevent dementia being an excellent option. Keeping your mind sharp can help strengthen neural connections and boost cognitive function.

  1. Exercise Regularly

Alongside singing to prevent dementia, regular physical activity enhances blood circulation to the brain, lowering the chances of developing dementia-related conditions such as Alzheimer’s.

  1. Socialise

Building and maintaining strong social connections can help combat feelings of loneliness and isolation, known risk factors for cognitive decline. Besides social activities and joining clubs, consider group singing to prevent dementia, fostering social bonds and mental stimulation.

  1. Incorporate Singing and Music

Singing to prevent dementia can benefit brain health, including cognitive stimulation, social connection, and improved mood. Actively engage in singing to prevent dementia by participating in group singing, attending concerts, or simply listening to your favourite tunes to boost cognitive function.

  1. Eat a Brain-Healthy Diet

Consuming foods rich in antioxidants, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals can support brain health. While focusing on a diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats, remember that activities such as singing to prevent dementia can also play a significant role in maintaining cognitive health.

  1. Get Enough Sleep

Consistent sleep is essential for the brain to function properly and consolidate memories. Just as we make time for singing to prevent dementia, we should aim for 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night and establish a regular sleep schedule.

  1. Manage Stress

Chronic stress can have a detrimental impact on brain health. Incorporate stress-reducing techniques into your routine, such as yoga and meditation or deep breathing exercises, along with singing to prevent dementia to effectively manage and alleviate stress.

  1. Schedule Regular Health Check-Ups

Regular check-ups with your healthcare provider can help identify and manage risk factors for dementia, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or high cholesterol. Like singing to prevent dementia, early detection and intervention can improve long-term outcomes and promote overall brain health.

Melodies of Hope and Prevention

In light of promising research findings on singing to prevent dementia, Cambridge and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust plans to launch a major pilot project. As the prevalence of dementia increases, so too does the urgency for ongoing research and innovative treatments like singing to prevent dementia.

The projected benefits of this initiative are multifold. Echoing this optimism, Dr Ben Underwood, Research and Development Director at the trust expressed enthusiasm about the potential of music as a “powerful and enjoyable tool” in advancing dementia care.

The promising results from singing and music therapy underline the potential of such creative interventions in managing and potentially preventing dementia. With more research on singing to prevent dementia, there is optimism about the role of singing in shaping the future of dementia care.