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Esther Heerema, MSW

The Use of Music for People with Alzheimer's Disease

By November 25, 2012

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One of my favorite things to watch is when something or someone connects with and touches a person who has Alzheimer's or a related dementia. Maybe you've witnessed those special times as well, where you suddenly see evidence of joy on their faces or the spark of a specific memory in their eyes.

While many things might elicit such responses, I've noticed that music in particular has a way of provoking reactions in people. The "feelings side" of me says that's because music often seems to stir the soul; the more logical aspect of me knows that music is stored in a different part of the brain. I happen to think both of those perspectives are right. It does stir emotions within people, and research shows it is also stored differently than other information.

Many times I've had the pleasure of seeing a person with middle stage Alzheimer's (or even late stage) perk up when they hear a familiar song. They may start tapping out the beat, or begin to sing each word perfectly and in tune, despite significant difficulty with their memory and word-finding skills.

As the holiday season approaches, don't underestimate the value of music for a loved one with dementia. You might purchase a recording of some of their favorite songs as a gift, or have familiar music playing in the background if you're having your family member over for dinner. If your loved one is in a nursing home and sometimes resists care, you could purchase a small CD player and ask staff to play the music while they're helping your loved one get dressed and ready for the day; the power of an enjoyable distraction such as music may make for a more positive day for both your family member and the staff.

I've identified several other ways throughout the stages of Alzheimer's that music can be used to encourage, calm, and elicit responses from those with dementia in this article:  Using Music in Alzheimer's.

Please feel free to write a note (pun intended) below about your experiences of seeing loved ones or patients respond to music, and have a song-filled day.

January 22, 2013 at 3:58 pm
(1) Michael O'Hanlon says:

A friend of mine and I have just launched an internet radio station to cater for alzheimer’s and Dementia patients(and the families,carers etc) The power of music is as yet untapped,several members of my family have been struck down with Alzheimer’s.We are on the air 24/7 seven days a week, and hopefully we will be on the air “LIVE” with presenters shortly and listeners can e-mail in their loved ones requests from a time when they were teenagers into their 20′s,.a smile or a foot tap response makes it worthwhile.

The station is called Radio Harmony International, Just Google it and enjoy.

Best Wishes,
Michael OHanlon,

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