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Music Therapy for Someone with Alzheimer’s Disease or Dementia

It’s been said that music is the most accessible art form because it’s based more on feeling than interpretation. You don’t need to know how to read or understand language for music to have a calming, soothing effect. All you need to do is close your eyes and let the voices, notes, and beats take you away.

Music has positive effects on associative memory as well. Who hasn’t heard an old song without being instantly transported to their childhood, listening to the radio while in the car or playing in a store? 

Music triggers such a powerful cognitive response that researchers have studied its effect on late-stage Alzheimer’s disease and dementia patients. They discovered that the right song could reconnect the patient with the “real” world. 

Giving further weight to this research is The Alzheimer Society’s successful Music Project, which provides MP3 players loaded with personalized music to people living with dementia. The program has unlocked music’s potential to help memory, fuel physical and social activity, improve sleep, elevate mood, and more to enhance the person’s overall well-being

Why music helps support Alzheimer’s disease and dementia treatments 

There’s an authentic mystical quality about music that supports and reassures us through hard times. An untold number of broken hearts have been healed through music’s incredible restorative power.

Studies have shown that music therapy is especially effective in helping people with communicative difficulties, including Alzheimer’s disease and dementia patients. People with these conditions often can’t express basic needs and desires, leading to frustration and feelings of isolation. 

Singing along with music helps support communicative structure, enables dialogue, and exercises declining cognitive skills. Hearing a song from one’s past can also restore one’s identity by triggering forgotten memories. 

Many caregivers also use music as a redirection to set moods and reduce restlessness in older adults. Music is a powerful tool in the fight to prevent cognitive decline when used strategically as part of therapy or just as an everyday pleasure.

Benefits of music to someone with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia 

Studies have shown that musical memories are still preserved in someone with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. This is because the areas of the brain which are crucial to retaining music memory are relatively unaffected by the disease. Therefore, playing music allows us to provide emotional and behavioural support, such as stress relief, reduced anxiety and depression, and decreased agitation. 

Caregivers can use music to keep a positive environment for their patients and create a connection between them with the outside world, especially for those who have difficulty communicating due to the disease.

Other benefits music brings to Alzheimer’s disease and dementia patients include:

  • Improved memory
  • Positive changes to mood
  • Better emotional states
  • A renewed sense of control over their life
  • Engagement when other activities don’t work
  • Promotion of rhythmic, continuous movement which supports physical rehabilitation
  • Improvement of mental acuity through singing and recalling of lyrics
  • Helps socialization with others through dancing and group singing

In short, you can use music to help increase the levels of physical, mental, and emotional functioning in older adults. Music used to stimulate someone with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia can help maintain or elevate the person’s quality of life.  

8 tips for using music to stimulate memory, brain activity, and movement 

Music brings pleasure in everyone’s life, but it’s especially effective in bringing joy to people with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Here are eight ways you can use music to enhance the life of your loved one:

  1. Research music from their time: Experts recommend sourcing out music from the person’s young adulthood, generally between the ages of 18 and 25, to maximize the chances of reconnection.
  2. Create a playlist: Are there any particular favourite songs that would evoke recollections of happy times? Solicit help from friends and family to create a custom playlist for your loved one.  
  3. Use music to elicit a response: Music can set a particular mood by matching the right songs to a specific activity. For example, upbeat music might be appropriate for activities that require alertness, such as bathing or dressing. During quieter moments before bed, slow ballads might be best. Try different songs for different situations until you find the right combination that elicits the appropriate response. 
  4. Have fun with movement: Get your loved one moving with hand clapping or toe-tapping to the beat of the music. If possible, have the older adult stand up and move or dance. Dancing with the older adult will add an extra element of fun!
  5. Get them singing along: Singing enhances musical memory association. Some studies have suggested music memory functions operate differently from other types of memory. Thus, singing can help the person recall happy memories more effectively than other stimuli. You can also enhance the experience by singing with them! 
  6. Keep the focus on the music: Before turning on the music, eliminate competing noises from the television, vacuum, or other distractions. Use a source that’s commercial-free or provides uninterrupted music to help minimize confusion.
  7. Use a comfortable volume level: Set the volume at a level most appropriate to your loved one’s hearing ability.
  8. Pay attention to your loved one’s response: The person might enjoy some songs more than others. Songs or types of music they appear to enjoy should be played more often, while pieces that trigger adverse reactions should be dropped from the list.

Remember – sharing music is a loving experience that will strengthen bonds between you and your loved one. Even if they can’t fully express it, trust that the older adult in your life treasures every second of your time together and feels reassured that no matter what, you’re there to love and support them. 

Eldercare services in Etobicoke, Mississauga, and Toronto

When you need help caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, help is only a phone call away.

CareHop specializes in providing professional in-home elder care services. We offer everything from reliable nursing care to help with day-to-day duties, such as homemaking and meal preparation, personal care, casual companionship, and more. Our goal is to keep your older adult happy, engaged, and supported under any circumstances, while taking all the work and worry away about elder care from you.  

If you have any questions about our customized personal care services, please reach out to us anytime. 

About the Author

Michael Lu is the founder of CareHop, specializing in providing compassionate support for individuals and families touched by Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

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