How can music help with Alzheimer’s disease?

By Machaela Magennis, 6:44 am on

We’ve all experienced it. Someone hums a tune or uses a phrase from an old song and we cannot shake that song from our head all day. Sometimes they evoke great memories, sometimes the song just becomes annoying. There are songs that remind me of happy memories from over 30 years ago!

Did you know that these sorts of memories driven by song are great for people with Alzheimer’s disease? Those chords and verses of music can reactivate memories and remind people of happy times, which creates a sense of calm and joy. This is very reassuring for people with Alzheimer’s disease. Even though some people may lose the power of language or memory in the advanced stages of the disease, they can still have an incredible ability to recall songs and music. I remember my Grandmother singing all the old war songs that my Grandfather used to sing, even when she was in the latter stages of her dementia.

Our care partners can use music to help soothe our clients and bring back their joy, sometimes for hours after the music has stopped. Because we really take the time to get to know our clients, their background and preferences, music is just one way that we can bring back enjoyment and enrich their lives.

How can we best select music for our loved ones?

  • Find out which songs were on the hit parade when they were in their late teens to mid-twenties. For a lot of us, these were our most socially active times.
  • For loved ones in a more advanced stage of dementia, care partners can select music from the loved one’s primary school years. Their early recall will be better than recall from later years.
  • For people from a non-English speaking background, try to find music in that language or that style.
  • Just as we wouldn’t play guitar and drum laden heavy beats to calm a small child, we wouldn’t do that to soothe an adult loved one. To encourage serenity and happiness, it is better to use calming music.
  • Get up and boogie! For loved ones in the early to middle stages of dementia, dancing can improve balance and gait, and it is also great exercise.

Music is one of the earliest ways we engage with small children, and as a lover of music myself, I am so happy to know that music can help to engage older adults.

(I particularly love Broadway musicals, so anyone who sings from a Broadway musical to me will make me smile all day! Post below which songs always make you smile.)

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