You’re driving down the highway, and suddenly a song from your childhood comes on the radio. Before you know it, the words are coming automatically out of your mouth, and you are awash in memories of old high school friends and epic teenage adventures. Music is deeply connected to memory and to the soul. It can sweep us into the past or lift our spirits in the present. It can also deeply touch those who have Alzheimer’s or dementia.
The Power of MusicThough it may be a struggle for a loved one with dementia or Alzheimer’s to remember what they had for breakfast yesterday or the name of their new neighbor, you may be surprised when they easily recall the words of their favorite songs. Earlier memories stay the longest, which means the music a person grew up with can hold power and nostalgia long after other interests and memories fade.
If you want to share a fun activity with a loved one with dementia, ask them about their favorite songs growing up. Put together a playlist and listen to it together. Not only will your loved one have a great time singing the lyrics and hearing the familiar rhythms again, but the songs may also spark memories. Music can sparks fascinating stories, and you may learn something about your family member that you never knew before.
This is an activity you can do with your loved one even in the intermediate stages of dementia.
Rhythmic CuesEven new or unknown music can have a profound impact on someone with dementia. Have you ever heard a brand new song that got your feet tapping or made your heart soar? That’s because any type of music has the power to affect our emotions, reduce stress, and stimulate positive feelings. According to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of American (AFA), “A person’s ability to engage in music, particularly rhythm playing and singing, remains intact late into the disease process because…these activities do not mandate cognitive functioning for success.”
In other words, the mind is naturally wired to pick up on rhythm. We don’t need to remember how to do it in order for music to move our souls.
Music TherapyMusic’s ability to change a person’s mood and to stimulate memories makes it a fantastic tool when interacting with a person with dementia. This disease often leaves its victims agitated, confused, and frustrated when they cannot remember a word or suddenly don’t know where they are. Soothing music can help ease tensions and encourage a loved one to relax. On the opposite end of the spectrum, if you are looking for something fun to do with your loved one, happy music will have them smiling and itching to dance. Put on a dance party, or simply play happy music throughout the day to add energy to the environment. Spice things up with your loved one’s favorite tunes to encourage mental stimulation and encourage them to tell you about the feelings and memories the old songs bring to the surface.
Music Therapy at Sunshine CareAt Sunshine Care, we appreciate the power of music to engage our residents. We embrace music therapy in many forms. For example, our Older, Wiser Learners Society (OWLS) program usually includes music therapy as a component. We might sing a song together in a class that relates to that day’s topic. If you visit our activity calendar, you’ll also see that we host regular music-related activities. In July, we put on a Judy Garland concert, and many of our residents loved hearing the songs of one of their favorite musical personalities.
We are always looking for new ways to make music a continual part of the experience of our residents at Sunshine Care. Want to learn more about our music therapy programs? If you live in Southern California, schedule a tour of our facility.