Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia affect memory function for over five and a half million Americans. While there is no cure, there is a therapeutic treatment that helps patients suffering from a memory disorder. Hint: It has a beat, and you can dance to it. Drop a few coins in the jukebox because we’re going to talk about music therapy.

Music improves understanding, mood, behavior and communication for those with memory loss due to dementia-related diseases. Research has shown that music therapy helps enhance memory, lower stress levels, reduce depression symptoms (along with agitation and anxiety) and improves sleep and cognition. As an added bonus, music therapy can provide physical benefits like light exercise and increased movement for songs that have an upbeat feel to them. With slower-tempo music, blood pressure can be reduced.

How, and why, does music therapy work?

Music stimulates and engages specific parts of the mind for those with dementia. The neural networks that are responsible for music memory usually aren’t as negatively affected as other areas until later stages of the disease. As such, music creates an emotional response and triggers specific memories. It does this for all of us, not just dementia patients. Think of a song from your youth…you recall where you were and what you were doing when that song came on, almost as if it was on the soundtrack of that event in your life. If you’re married, you no doubt recall the first song you danced to at your reception with your spouse. These are memories that music can invoke, no matter your age, and they help trigger and stimulate that part of the brain for those suffering with memory loss due to Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.

If someone you know is suffering with dementia or memory loss, music therapy can help treat the symptoms and enhance your time with them. Experts recommend the following steps to start musical therapy:

  1. First, use music familiar to the senior.
  2. Secondly, encourage them to engage with the music, via tapping their toes, clapping their hands, moving to the beat, or even utilizing instruments to tap along to the beat.
  3. Finally, as a caregiver, you should participate too…sing along, dance or make music with your senior. If it’s fun for you, your joy will be contagious and radiate throughout the room. Many professional caregivers say that therapeutic musical program time with seniors is the highlight of their week.

To increase the effectiveness of music therapy, utilize these tips.

  • Assess the stage of dementia they’re in and ask if they can tell you what their favorite songs are.
  • Write them down and keep a list going.
  • Note the tempo of the songs you collect, and create playlists based on what mood you want to help foster for the senior.
  • Use the upbeat playlist to improve their mood and look for down-tempo songs to help simmer down bouts of anxiety or agitation they may be feeling.
  • If they can’t tell you what music they remember from their youth, assess the senior’s age and look up popular songs from their teenage years.
  • For many seniors, church hymns or patriotic music stimulate recall, and bring calmness and a sense of joy.

The University of Kansas created a Music Therapy Song Resource List you can reference.

Going through Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia is frightening and confusing. It steals the effortless recall of past events and memories of their lives. Music therapy can help seniors remember and relive the joyful memories of their youth, as well as create new memories for caregivers and family members who share their musical therapy moments.

Several Trousdale Living Community locations provide Memory Care services for those with Alzheimer’s or other dementias. We can help ease your burden. Give us a call today.