Using Music in Dementia Care
by Cheryl Khaner,
PAC Licensing Department Lead
Music does wonderful things for the human brain:
- it can block out excessive input from other sounds in your environment, keeping it from overwhelming you and keep you calm
- music you like triggers the release of feel-good neurotransmitters, which help you feel relaxed, happy, and more focused
- listening and/or playing music can make you smarter, happier, healthier, and more productive
- music can help you to be more inclined to help others with empathy, kindness, generosity, and cooperation
- music can make you feel more hopeful, powerful, and in control of your life.
While music can alleviate symptoms of mood and mental disorders in a wide variety of people, it is truly significant when added to the daily routine of a person living with dementia.
The benefits observed when hearing familiar music include:
- the persons living with dementia tend to react positively and often sing along, as musical memories (established in our youth) far outlast other memories
- the right temporal lobe, which is often more preserved through most types of dementia, responds well to music, rhythm, and prayer, often reconnecting pathways in our brains.
- the right music also helps to alleviate depression, anxiety, and agitation while improving brain function
It is a good idea to play familiar music which the person living with dementia has enjoyed in the past to reap the greatest benefits of listening. The brain-boosting effect of music is evident at all stages of life and can ward off the effects of brain change, and improve the quality of life for a person living with dementia. Even in the late stages of dementia, a person may be able to tap a beat or sing lyrics to a song from childhood.
But don’t just put their headphones on and walk away! While music can be enjoyed by the individual, headphones may create a greater sense of isolation for the person living with dementia. As recently reported on NBC News, dozens of choirs have been founded nationwide for persons living with dementia and their caregivers; with the goal being to exercise the brain, reduce anxiety, and foster new friendships through the power of song.
So, we suggest you use the music as a tool to create engagement, and to foster a connection. Try to start a sing-along, encourage movement (clapping, dancing), enjoy family time, and trigger pleasant memories. There is no downside to listening to music with your loved one. It can often be the best medicine!