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Benefits of Music for Dementia Patients
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The Benefits and Effects of Music for People with Dementia

June 18, 2018

Music is proving to be good medicine for people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Research shows that while dementia causes progressive memory loss and impairment, memory for music remains. That means that melodies can often be remembered long after names, faces and words are forgotten. Data indicates that music for dementia patients can boost mood, reduce agitation and improve focus. Best of all, music helps people in all stages of dementia connect with fond memories. 

Group of seniors outside in the sun singing with a guitar

Music for Dementia

There’s a science behind the benefits of music for dementia patients. Music stimulates many parts of the brain at the same time, such as those areas affecting language, mood and movement, along with the senses of hearing, sight, sound and touch. Therefore, as a therapy, music for dementia patients can help improve quality of life. 

At Elmcroft Memory Care communities, caregivers know that music for dementia patients can help residents stay as engaged and happy as possible. Some of the ways we use music for dementia include:

  • Starting the day: Playing or singing animated, happy songs when helping a dementia patient start the day can ease dressing and morning hygiene activities.
  • Breaking a repetitive behavior: Listening to a familiar song can help a dementia patient break away from a repetitive behavior like asking the same question over and over, or repeating a motion or activity.
  • Helping with communication: Music can be a way to communicate for dementia patients who have lost the ability to speak. When listening to a favorite tune, dementia patients may clap, nod or tap in rhythm to the music. When they join in sing-alongs, they are often able to express themselves and gain the benefits of joining in a social activity.
  • Stimulating activity: Adding music to therapy or exercise sessions helps dementia patients focus on moving. Singing while doing exercise helps patients with their breathing and keeps them engaged with the activity.
  • Easing into nighttime routines: Soft, calming music can create a calm environment and ease sundowning behavior (like anxiety or anger) and create a serene atmosphere for bedtime routines.

How to Make a Personalized Playlist of Music for Dementia Patients

Research shows that familiar music makes the most impact on people with dementia. If you want to make a music playlist for a dementia patient, consider these tips:

  • Know the era: Dementia patients are often engaged with music that was popular where they were between the ages of 18 and 25.
  • Understand the person’s musicality: When making a playlist for a person with dementia, think about their personal background and how they may have engaged with music in the past. Gospel music may resonate best with a retired minister. A school song may bring recognition to a retired professor. Classical music may be best for a concert pianist. 
  • Think about the entertainment factor: What kinds of musical entertainment did the person enjoy when they were younger? Did they go to the opera regularly, enjoy Broadway shows or go to concerts? The answers will help identify the right kind of music for the playlist.

Here is a sample playlist of songs that are often played for people with dementia:

  • "You Are My Sunshine"
  • "Over The Rainbow"
  • "Amazing Grace"
  • "She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain"

Once you have your music, start to organize it into a playlist based on the time of day. Bright, happy and energetic music is best for mornings, while calm, soft and gentle music is best for the evening. Then look for cues in your loved one’s facial expression and body language as they listen to or engage with the playlist, to understand the effect the music is having.

Check out this other article outlining activities for dementia patients.

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