There is a big push to research cures and effective prevention of dementia. A recent post of the Vancouver Sun (1) shared research on weight training staving off dementia. (Thank you to Embe Music Therapy for bringing this post to my attention.)  While all types of exercise provide benefits, resistance weight training seems to produce the greatest benefit for attention, memory, problem solving and decision-making in this small randomized study.

Why is this important?

According to the Alzheimer’s Association (2), 5.4 million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer’s disease. An estimated 1 in 8 Americans over age 65 have the disease. According to a Pew Research (3), every day for the next 18 years, 10,000 baby boomers will reach age 65. There is an implication that the number of people living with Alzheimer’s disease will greatly increase over the next decade.

What does this mean?

Looking just at the numbers, Alzheimer’s disease is an ever-increasing health and care issue. Finding ways to slow progression, to treat the disease, and to prevent the disease are important.

As a baby boomer who works with older adults this study supports the notion of exercise maintaining health both for me and my clients. Finding exercise that is appropriate to our abilities and interests is also key. If I don’t enjoy something, chances are I won’t keep doing something. The same goes for my clients.

As a music therapist, I am aware of research demonstrating music used to increase motivation and compliance with physical exercise. And, music can set a structure for duration. Preferred music can also increase the enjoyment of tasks (like exercise).

I am not a physical therapist, an occupational therapist, a restorative nurse, or a certified fitness instructor. However, in my role as activity director, I have led (and co-lead with these specialists) exercise groups designed by others for use in skilled nursing facilities and assisted living facilities. Whenever possible, I encouraged the group to sing songs that supported the movements. It seems more fun to sing rather than to count repetitions.

I also am aware of the manual dexterity and range of motion required to play various instruments. Instruments come in various sizes and weights. When I include instrument playing in my sessions and groups I am providing participants an opportunity to exercise (even just a little) while experiencing the social and emotional aspects of group music making.

Do I think music and movement can prevent dementia?

The short answer is “no”. But, I think both have benefits of which we know some basics and have much more to learn.I do think music and movement have an important role in all of us living healthy lives. I do think music and movement can easily and affordably be made accessible to older adults in a variety of settings.

If you live in the Hays, Kansas area and would like to experience a music group that involves movement, please sign up here for class announcements. If you are interested in working with me personally or in a setting to enhance your exercise with music, contact me using the blue contact tab on the left side or email me:[email protected]

  • 1. Weight training helps older women stave off dementia (cbc.ca)
  • 2. Alzheimer’s Association. 2012 Alzheimer’s disease facts and figures.Alzheimer’s and Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association. March 2012; 8:131–168.
  • 3. D’Vera Cohn and Paul Taylor, Pew Research Center. “Baby Boomers Approach Age 65 — Glumly”. Social and Demographic Trends. December 20, 2010. 
  • Photo from Happy Health Today