In Dementia Patients, Music Never Loses Its Power to Evoke

When visiting a loved one with dementia and Alzheimer’s, music is an old friend that’s well worth taking along.

Why is that? As you may know, dementia and Alzheimer’s causes damage to several regions of the brain that are important to functioning in daily life. The result is damage to memory, language and problem solving. As time goes on, communication becomes more difficult.

But when it comes to music memory, Alzheimer’s seems to leave that part of the brain alone. It stays intact, even in advanced dementia.

For that reason, researchers have taken a closer look at how music affects Alzheimer’s patients. Several studies show that dementia patients retain a strong recall of melodies and song lyrics. Not only that, but music also has a big effect on mood, resulting in a decrease in agitation as well as violent outbursts.

Music is often called the universal language. Use it to create a space to spend time with your loved one with dementia. Here’s how to get started.

First, bring the tunes

Build a playlist of songs they know and enjoy that you can stream on a Bluetooth speaker. Or, bring a portable turntable, if you have one, and a stack of discs. Not sure what to play? With a little online searching, you can dig up the hits from their teenage years and start from there.

Follow their lead

As you play songs for your loved one, pay attention to how they respond. Hearing familiar melodies can prompt them to come up with their faves, giving you more material to draw from.

Break out into song

A family singalong can be the perfect shared activity. The songs can come from your summer camp, hymns from church or holiday favorites. Find the familiar and print off some lyrics so everyone can join the chorus.

Share your talents

If you play guitar or keyboards, stage a live performance for your loved one. (Or, bring a musician friend.) If your musical talents allow you to take requests, even better. It will be a tremendous gift that helps your loved one access a different side of themselves that is still intact.

Seek out mood music

If you don’t want to make music a central part of your visit, you can also have it playing quietly in the background to set the right mood. Try something slow paced and calm to help them settle after an agitated mood. Or something happy and upbeat to inject some energy into the space.

Enjoy the moment

Music is a series of moments. As you’re enjoying time together, be present, take it all in and soak up this opportunity to learn a new side of someone you love.

Learn more about dementia from “Insights from Arthur’s,” featuring educational videos from Arthur’s Director of Development and Senior Care Consultant Deb Nygaard.