How to Use Music Therapy When a Senior Has Alzheimer's

Sunrise Senior Living  |  April 23, 2019
How to Use Music Therapy When a Senior Has Alzheimer's
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Music can help us reconnect with some of life’s fondest moments, such as a high school dance or your wedding. For older adults who have dementia, music can be a means of reminiscing.

Even as the disease advances, people can often remember the words to their favorite songs. Music has the power to manage mood and heal. When used appropriately, it can lessen dementia-related stress, agitation, and even depression.

Music and Alzheimer’s Disease

Music taps into the auditory system of the brain. It is one of the first systems in the body to develop and one of the last affected by dementia. Research shows that music stimulates cognitive pathways in the brain.

That stimulation allows people with dementia to access long-term memories. Long-familiar music has been shown to encourage singing, dancing, and even displays of affection.

Familiar songs also unlock emotions and help those with dementia connect with their feelings, even after verbal communication skills are lost. An older adult with dementia who hasn’t spoken in years may be able to sing tunes from their early teens.

Music as Therapy for Adults with Dementia

Senior living communities routinely include music in memory care activities because of its proven record of success. Family caregivers can easily adopt this practice at home.

The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America suggests the following if you would like to incorporate music therapy:

Early-stage Alzheimer’s

  • Stretch along to music each morning.
  • Have a midday dance party to boost energy.
  • Play music during a daily walk or while riding a stationary bike.
  • Encourage a senior who previously played an instrument to try it again.
  • Put on soft music during the evening to encourage relaxation.

Mid- to late-stage Alzheimer’s

  • Play comforting background music in the late afternoon to help decrease agitation and anxiety.
  • Have sing-alongs to music the senior listened to as a child or young adult.

If you aren’t sure what type of music to play or at what volume, it may take trial and error to figure out. These tips can help you create a music therapy program for a senior loved one with dementia:

  • Use the internet to search, by year, the top songs from different stages of your family member’s life.
  • Create your own playlist or utilize CDs and commercial-free radio stations. Commercials can be confusing and distracting for an adult with dementia.
  • Experiment with the volume to create different moods. For example, if you are trying to lift the spirit, turning up the volume a little might work. By contrast, if you are trying to promote sleep, keeping the volume down will be more relaxing.

Live With Melody at Sunrise Senior Living

In Sunrise Senior Living communities across the United States, team members use SingFit, an award-winning therapeutic music technology, to enhance residents’ well-being. It’s one of many ways that our residents Live With Melody. Read this article to learn more!

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