Evoking Memories and Joy with Music in Dementia Patients

Jul 01, 2019

Research suggests that listening to or singing songs can provide emotional and behavioral benefits for people with Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia. Musical memories can be preserved in Alzheimer's disease because key brain areas linked to musical memory are relatively undamaged by the disease.

According to researcher Linda Maguire, musical aptitude and appreciation are two of the last remaining abilities in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. They remain long after other abilities have passed.  Therefore, music can be used as a tool to get past the limitations of the disease, promote cognitive function, and engage the person. 

Additionally, music can shift mood, manage stress and stimulate positive interactions.  According to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, “When used appropriately, music can shift mood, manage stress-induced agitation, stimulate positive interactions, facilitate cognitive function and coordinate motor movements.”

If you'd like to use music to help someone who has Alzheimer's disease, consider these tips:

1)      Think about the individual’s preferences. Think about what kind of music he or she would enjoy and what music would evoke memories of happy times in his or her life.  Incorporate music they grew up listening to and favorite genres and songs. 

2)      Use music to create the mood you want. For example, a tranquil piece of music can help create a calm environment, while a faster paced song from someone's childhood may boost spirit and evoke happy memories.

3)      Avoid sensory overload.  Eliminate competing noises by shutting windows and doors and by turning off the television. Make sure the volume of the music is not too loud.

4)      Encourage movement to add to the enjoyment. Help the individual clap along or tap his or her feet to the beat. If possible, consider dancing, too.

5)      Sing along. Singing along to music together with the person can boost the mood and enhance your relationship. Some early studies also suggest musical memory functions differently than other types of memory, and singing can help stimulate unique memories.