How Alzheimer’s and Dementia Sufferers Benefit from Music

Seniors suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia provide evidence of the relaxing and restorative power of music. Below we outline the benefits of music and ways to integrate music therapy into the life of your aging loved one.

Music & Healing

A study conducted recently at the University of Miami School of Medicine discovered that music therapy leads to increased secretion levels of brain chemicals, like melatonin, serotonin, norepinephrine, epinephrine, and prolactin in Alzheimer’s patients.

Music can improve mood, reduce stress and agitation, foster social interactions, help coordinate motor function, and even improve cognition. Our brain naturally responds to music even after these diseases have impaired our cognitive functions. The positive impact lasts well after the music has stopped playing.

The Associative Power of Music

Music has an ability to evoke emotions and memories from earlier in our lives. You can elicit the most engaged response by choosing songs from your loved one’s formative years — teens to mid-20s are ideal. If your loved one can still get around reasonably well, bring them to a concert or go out dancing. You can even consider buying a karaoke machine in order to sing along together to favorite tunes at home. Avoid playing a particular type of music if it happens to cause your loved one to exhibit signs of distress; it’s possible (s)he associates it with a disturbing memory.

For a loved one suffering from advanced stages of dementia, reaching further back in time may be an effective technique. Songs learned in childhood may trigger an even bigger response.

By English: Lance Cpl. Lisa M. Tourtelot [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Setting A Mood with Music

You can use music to attempt to trigger a particular mood. For example, uptempo music may encourage movement while slower songs can have a calming effect. Linked with daily activities and patterns, properly selected background music can guide behaviors and responses.

Unfamiliar music can also play a vital role in music therapy. New tunes can be used to develop positive responses, such as improved sleep and stress management. Music can also be used during exercise and physical therapy sessions to help promote balance and concentration.

People with advanced dementia often become frustrated or overwhelmed by environmental stimuli and/or their inability to communicate. Gentle music can help reduce their agitation and refocus their behaviors into positive activity.

Even in the later stages of dementia when all other human interactions fail, older adults can still often connect with music. Listening to music together, meanwhile, offers vital opportunities for connection between caregivers and patients.

Music therapy has been used for centuries to deal with stress and promote a general sense of well-being. Incorporating music into the life of your loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia, can help him/her experience its many significant benefits.