Studies say 35 million people world wide suffer with some form of dementia, 60-70% manifesting as Alzheimer’s disease. Dementia is described as: 1- the deterioration of mental faculties such as memory, concentration and judgment, resulting from an organic disease or a disorder of the brain. It is sometimes accompanied by emotional disturbance and personality changes. and 2- Madness; insanity. This ‘disturbed mental behavior’ as found in those diagnosed as having dementia is thought to be a common ‘side effect’ of aging though is finding relief today and even reversal through the miraculous benefits of sound therapy.
Did you know –
“The brain requires 3 billion stimuli per second for approximately 4.5 hours a day in order to function at maximum potential” ?
What is Sound Therapy?
Sound therapy, also known as music therapy, is not really a new science. Some practitioners such as Kimmo Lehtonen, PhD, a professor of education at the University of Turku (Finland), has been a clinical music therapist for more than 25 years. Music has been used in nursing homes and elderly care facilities since the 1940’s. Though it’s thought to be fairly new in recognition by modern science, today’s application of i-pods and self-entertainment devices have brought music therapy home to the individual. You could say that sound therapy has been around forever and was likely one of the first healing practices ever used, as one can use the voice alone to invoke results.
John Carpente, founder and executive director of the Rebecca Center for Music Therapy in New York and a licensed, board-certified music therapist uses sound therapy for patients of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia and says it helps improve their mental well-being including: memory recall, positive changes in emotional states, giving a sense of ‘control’ over life, drug-free pain relief, stimulation that produces interest when nothing else will, opportunities to interact with others and a structure promoting rhythm to assist in physical rehabilitation. Sources say that a regular dose of high frequency and varied sounds “stimulates the cortex of the brain, releasing latent energy and building brain connections.”
It is a known fact, that when we listen to beats that correlate with a certain brainwave frequency (beta, alpha, theta and delta) that our brains effortlessly begin to entrain with those beats within a few minutes. Certain brainwaves, such as alpha states, can help improve memory and enhance mental clarity. New connections are formed each time a neuron fires in the brain. This happens any time we are ‘stimulated’ such as by sounds or music. “Stimulating the neurons to fire actually builds and increases our neural network. Sound Therapy is so effective for memory because it stimulates our neurons to fire, and thereby builds new brain connections.”
The auditory (hearing) system is responsible for 85% of ongoing cortical activity. High frequency sound, such as that used in Sound Therapy programs, is the most effective sensory input to achieve this stimulation because sound registers at all three levels of the brain: the brain stem, the emotional mid brain, and the cerebral cortex. Sound Therapy causes neural firing in complex patterns which engage many different sensory and perceptive areas such as the auditory cortex, hypothalamus, and limbic system.
Those with dementia who have been unable to communicate their needs or interact ‘normally’ with others have found sound to be a gift of expression allowing them to connect and relay needs. David Aldridge editor of Music Therapy in Dementia Care and chair of qualitative research in medicine at the University Witten Herdecke (Germany) says: “Using songs in a therapy setting promotes communication, singing has many functions; it offers a communicative structure, stimulates and regulates, and enables dialogue.” It is very similar to how children and youth can learn quicker by using song, the brain is able to ‘connect’ easier to the rhythm and rhyme and thereby remember and recall more fluidly.
Neurologist Oliver Sacks explains, “Music imprints itself on the brain deeper than any other human experience. Music evokes emotion and emotion can bring with it memory.“
Effects of Sound Therapy
The Sound and Consciousness Institute studies the effects of sound on the body, psyche and spirit and has discovered four main areas in which sound can be a powerful tool for humans. These areas are physical healing and pain, emotional healing and release, mental brainwave entrainment and spiritual healing, awakening and recognition. Physical healing and pain is thought to be based on vibration and the ‘law of resonance.’ This law states: “A strong vibration causes a weaker vibration to vibrate at the same frequency as the stronger vibration.” Using this formula and coupling it with the understanding that pain and physical ailments occur when the body is vibrating at a lower than ‘optimal’ frequency, sound can then be implemented as a tool to increase the vibration of the cells in the body – allowing them to return to their harmonious vibration of health.
In the case of pain, sound is used to relieve it by understanding the logic that “pain receptors can only handle so much information, so when you fill them up with sound, they can no longer transmit pain impulses.” These physical healing and pain relieving examples can be translated into their mental counterparts in order to see how sound can affect one with mental illness or dementia.
Most of the ‘lower’ emotions, often experienced by one with disturbed mental behavior(or even family members of those with dementia), “are associated with sounds that are really irritating, such as: pessimism, frustration, irritation, impatience, overwhelm, disappointment, doubt, worry, blame, discouragement, anger, revenge, hatred, rage, jealousy, insecurity, guilt, unworthiness, fear, grief, depression, despair, and powerlessness. These are distorted or inconsistent sounds, and they break down your physical body.“
On the other side of the coin, sounds resonating with ‘higher’ emotions support health and healing, such as: “contentment, hopefulness, optimism, positive expectation, belief, enthusiasm, eagerness, happiness, passion, joy, appreciation, empowered, freedom, and love. They actually nurture the beating of your heart and your nervous system. The sounds associated with these emotions are consistent and quite pure tones. Vowel sounds resonate these types of energies the best. Vowels create consistent and pure tones.”
Mental entrainment of brainwaves was discussed above but can also correlate to emotional healing in the way that- the way we ‘feel’ affects our mental state and thereby the type of brainwaves we are generating. Music or sound therapy helps cultivate the type of environment conducive to a positive mental state, induces calmness and thereby, memory recall and clarity.
Spiritual healing, awakening and recognition have overlap in the above areas but can really be described as helping one to ‘remember who they really are.’ Sometimes, in cases of dementia, the person has felt disassociated from their ‘true’ self throughout life on some level and perhaps ‘escapes’ into the state of described dementia in order to ‘find themselves.’ This can be upsetting to family members who are no longer being recognized and have to perform tasks that usually a parent or loved one is not able to now perform due to their ‘loss of self-identification.’ Sound can help to merge the realities of 3-dimensional living with what might be termed ‘spiritual attunement’ or self-remembrance so that an individual may integrate who they are – on a higher level- with the body they are inhabiting. This remembrance that sound therapy affords helps relieve symptoms of dementia or other ‘disturbed mental behaviors’ and return one to a state of balance.
How to use sound therapy?
There are many ways one can implement sound therapy to assist the self or a loved one with symptoms of dementia. Pre-recorded alpha rhythms, tuning forks, crystal bowls, toning, drumming, chanting and many other forms of sound healing can be used to influence healing. More information can be found at The Sound and Consciousness Institute or on-line at various locations or by searching ‘Sound Therapy’ near you.
Going back to the first moments in the cradle, the voice of the mother has long been one of healing, attunement and comfort. We have lost this nurturing connection and have suffered the consequences by ‘losing our minds.’ Through the amazing strides taken in sound and music therapy, dementia, Alzheimer’s and various other disturbed mental behaviors can now find relief and even healing. As we remember, in the beginning, was the word(sound).
Written by: Stasia Bliss