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Music is Powerful Therapy for Adults with Alzheimer's Disease

January 5, 2016

Music is Powerful Therapy for Adults with Alzheimer's Disease

Imagine taking a Sunday drive down a sunny, Indiana road and your favorite song from high school starts playing on the radio. You instantly feel happy and are tempted to sing along. You remember all the words. You’re amazed how quickly you recall the lyrics to a song you haven’t heard in 20 years.

Music is amazing.

These calming sensations and memory triggers inspired caregivers to use music in dementia care. In memory care communities like Five Star Senior Living, music is a proven method for soothing agitation in older adults with Alzheimer’s.

According to research from the Rebecca Center for Music Therapy in New York City, music is one of the most effective methods used in dementia care because it stimulates communication and promotes memory skills.

Many Alzheimer’s patients can remember lyrics and sing songs through even the more advanced stages of the disease, long after they lose recognition of names and faces.

The center’s founder John Carpenter, a licensed, board certified music therapist, states that music empowers older adults to rid themselves of the isolation associated with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Benefits of Music on Memory

Carpenter believes there are many other benefits music can offer to people with Alzheimer’s disease including:

  • Memory Recall
  • Positive Changes in Mood
  • Mental Stimulation
  • Vocal and Movement Stimulation
  • Opportunities to Interact with Others Socially
  • Non-Pharmacological Management of Pain and Discomfort

Scientific Findings

According to studies from the Alzheimer’s Association, music increases an older adult’s happiness and social skills. Recent research proves that listening to music releases dopamine in the brain, which sends positive signals through the body.

Music engages areas of the brain linked to concentration, making predictions and updating events stored in previous memories. Studies also suggest that music helps the brain organize new information.

Use Music to Promote Memory

A music and memory program is at its best when caregivers follow these three tips:

  1. Choose the Correct Music

    It’s best to pick songs from the senior loved one’s teenage years. The music your loved one listened to when they grew up is the most influential. It’s the music that shaped their lives.

    Music and memory programs are most effective when you use your loved one’s favorite tunes because these are benchmark memories. These songs are more accessible for your senior to recall because they are engrained in their mind.

    For example, if your loved one grew up in the 50s, he may enjoy Frank Sinatra songs. Or if your loved one was an avid churchgoer, try singing hymns with them.

  2. Determine the Best Listening Method

    Many memory care communities use iPods for their music and memory programs. Family caregivers can adopt this practice and personalize their loved one’s playlists, allowing them to enjoy their favorite tunes on their own device.

    If iPods aren’t the best method, caregivers can try a vinyl record player and project their loved one’s favorite music in the comfort of their rooms for the whole family to enjoy.

    Indiana caregivers should try a few methods until they find one that works well and makes their senior loved one happy.

  3. Use Music to Promote Social Engagement

    According to the Alzheimer’s Association, music is one of the most effective methods for promoting engagement in adults with dementia.

    When a music and memory program is successful, it strengthens relationships between older adults and their families. It also forms bonds with members of a memory care community’s staff.

    This type of therapy program also allows caregivers to use music to calm behaviors like agitation instead of relying on medications.

    The bottom line is that music’s healing harmonies can benefit both the older adult living with Alzheimer’s and their family caregivers.