How Music Is Therapeutic for People with Dementia

June 24, 2019

How Music Is Therapeutic for People with Dementia

Learn how you can use music as therapy to improve the quality of life for a loved one with dementia

If you have ever listened to a song that sparked a happy memory from the past, you have witnessed firsthand the powerful impact that music can have on the brain. Researchers exploring the idea of music as therapy have found it to be a powerful tool. This is particularly true for those who are struggling with a health condition like Alzheimer’s disease.

Music, Memory, and Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, causes damage to the parts of the brain that are responsible for episodic memory. These are the memories related to specific life events.

Music, however, is learned and remembered differently. Instead of relying on episodic memory, music relies on an association of routines and repetitive activities. The brain stores them using procedural memory, which requires little mental processing.

Memories that are connected to music remain relatively untouched, even in the later stages of Alzheimer’s disease. That’s why music can act as a conduit to happy memories among people with various types of dementia.

3 Tips for Using Music As Therapy

Dr. Jonathon Graff-Radford of the Mayo Clinic says caregivers should consider using these three tips when using music therapy with a family member who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or a similar type of dementia:

  1. Choose music familiar to your loved one

It might take a little trial and error to determine which musical artists and songs connect with your loved one. Be patient and keep trying.

  • Find music that was popular during your loved one’s youth or young adulthood. It can help evoke memories of happier times in their life.
  • Ask family and friends for suggestions, especially those who grew up with the senior.
  • Pay close attention to the way your loved one reacts to the music. Reminiscing can sometimes be painful, too. If a song appears to be causing your loved one distress, change the music and make note of it so you don’t play it again.
  1. Match desired outcome with the choice of music

Think about what you are trying to accomplish with your choice of music. For example, are you trying to calm a loved one’s agitation? That’s a fairly common struggle for adults with dementia, and one music can often help overcome.

  • Soothing music can promote a sense of calm during mealtimes, personal care times, and right before bedtime.
  • When you are trying to encourage a senior with Alzheimer’s to exercise or do something physical, turn on upbeat music. Just be observant to make sure it isn’t causing agitation.
  • If your loved one is feeling down, a sing-along might lift their spirits. Music from their high school or college days might be especially helpful.
  1. Avoid overstimulation

Make sure the music isn’t competing with other activities or noises in the house. For an adult with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, it can be difficult to process a hectic environment.

  • Turn off the television and close exterior doors and windows if it is noisy outside.
  • Monitor the volume of the music and take any hearing loss into consideration.
  • Select a music channel that is commercial-free or create your own play list.

These tips can help you use music’s healing harmonies to improve the quality of life for a loved one with dementia.

Creating Purposeful Days for Adults with Dementia

At Legacy Senior Living communities, we are dedicated to helping adults with dementia live with purpose. We invite you to join us for a personal tour to learn more. Call the community nearest you to schedule a time.