You’ve probably had a song come on the radio before that sparked a happy memory and made you long for days gone by. Music has the power to calm, excite, connect, energize, and unite. For people with Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia, music’s healing harmonies have been proven to be a way to improve communication and manage difficult days.
You’ll find music to be an integral part of memory care communities across the country. If you haven’t already, the holidays can be a great time to begin to explore the benefits of music with a loved one who has dementia.
The Link Between Music and Memory
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. It causes damage to parts of the brain responsible for episodic memory. These are the memories related to specific life events, such as an adult child’s wedding or the birth of a grandchild. For most people with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, these memories become cloudy or lost completely as the disease progresses.
Music is managed differently by the brain. From the way it is learned, stored, and recalled, music relies on an association of routines and repetitive activities. The brain stores them using what is known as procedural memory and, unlike episodic memory, it requires little mental processing.
This means that memories connected to music typically remain relatively untouched, even as dementia progresses. It’s why music can be so effective at helping people with dementia recall and connect with happy memories.
The holiday season is a good time to create a playlist for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia. You can start with holiday carols that were popular when the senior was younger, and add more playlists throughout the new year.
Creating a Meaningful Holiday Playlist
Here are a few tips to find holiday tunes that will bring the most joy to your family member.
Best way to listen
While younger people often use headphones or earbuds to stream their favorite tunes, seniors who have Alzheimer’s might find them agitating or disorienting. Then there is the worry that they will misplace expensive earbuds.
If your loved one doesn’t like anything around their ears or you are concerned earbuds will be lost, consider using wireless speakers or one of the newer vinyl record players. The latter are designed to look vintage which might appeal to an older adult. You might need to experiment to see what listening method your loved one likes best.
Explore streaming services
As far as streaming services, you’ll have a variety of options from which to choose. Amazon Prime comes with Prime Music. Amazon Music Unlimited is $9 a month for Prime members and $10 a month for nonmembers. Apple Music is $10 a month for an individual or $15 for a family of six. Spotify has a free tier with limited flexibility or a premium tier for $10 a month for an individual.
How to select music
Choosing holiday songs that were popular during happy times in the senior’s life is a good way to get started. For most people, music tends to be the most influential during our teen years. If you aren’t sure how to figure out what holiday music was at the top of the charts during these periods, this list of the most popular holiday songs from the last 50 years might be helpful. And almost everyone, including older adults with dementia, probably has happy memories associated with childhood holiday music, such as Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph, and Jingle Bells.