The Benefits of Music Therapy for Seniors with Alzheimer’s

Numerous advances in understanding Alzheimer’s has helped to create new therapy techniques and medications that slow the effects of the disease.  Some improvements such as new medicines can actually slow the progress while others can improve mental clarity of the patient.  One such improvement is music therapy.

What is Music Therapy?

Music is a powerful medium for almost anyone; the same is true for seniors with Alzheimer’s.  Music therapy is simply the process of using music to change a person’s behavior or provide memories to improve clarity.

Music can alter moods to manage stress, stimulate interactions with other people, help coordinate motor skills, and improve cognitive functions.  A person can respond to music even in the late stages of Alzheimer’s as it does not require cognitive thought.  It happens because of automatic responses in the area of the brain that responds to auditory sounds and does not require a thinking process.

How Does Music Therapy Work?

Music can provide associations from something in the past.  Response to music is so strong that a memory from years before can be restored just by hearing the same song.  Each person’s response is individual because what brings pleasant memories for one can make another person sad.  For this reason, it is important to note a senior’s reaction to hearing specific songs.

Here are some ways music provides therapy for people with Alzheimer’s.

  • Choosing songs from the person’s past during their early adult years, between 18 and 25 are likely to have the highest response.  It often provides the most engagement.
  • Music may help relax the person and allow them to go to sleep.
  • As the disease progresses, the best choice in music to gain interaction would be songs from their childhood.  They may get involved and sing some of the lyrics from memory.

You can use music that has an upbeat sound to help the person move from one activity to another.  It is useful for mealtimes if they have a tendency to fall asleep during meals.

On the other hand, quiet music such as lullabies are good for transitioning to bedtime or other activities that may cause them to get upset or agitated.  Of course, these guidelines won’t work if the music has a different association to the person.

Controlling Agitation

As Alzheimer’s progresses, the senior is likely to become agitated more often.  This is due to the confusion as they try to process what is going on around them.  Music, singing, and dancing can be calming because it redirects their focus.

Provide Emotional Connection

As the disease progresses, the person can become withdrawn.  They lose their ability to communicate their emotions and often fail to recognize their spouse or child.  Music can help them share a closeness that they can’t express any other way.  For instance, couples can dance with each other, which often bring about hugs and kisses.

Singing songs with their adult children that they sang to them when they were little can also provide a connection that is lost otherwise.

How to Use Music Therapy

  • Play music your loved one listened to when they were young.
  • Dance around the house or take them out dancing.
  • Record several favorite songs that have special meaning to aid in recollections later in the disease.
  • Encourage them to play an instrument if they learned how.
  • Play music while they walk to help with balance and gait.
  • Use background music to improve their mood.
  • Play soft, non-stimulating music at bedtime or during bath time.

Music therapy cannot cure or reverse Alzheimer’s disease.  However, it can stimulate and calm the person with the disease and improve their quality of life.  It can help maintain memories and emotional connections with those they love.  Studies have shown that it also reduces wandering and improves restlessness.  It also helps people sleep better and reduces agitation.

Alzheimer’s is a devastating disease on both the patient and their family.  Music therapy is one way to help the person continue to be active and a part of life around them.  It helps them to maintain a connection with their family even when they don’t show it otherwise.

Carefect Homecare Services can help you care for your loved one with Alzheimer’s.  Our caregivers are trained to work with the special issues that are experienced as a result of the disease.  They can use resources such as music therapy to help with personal care and other daily activities.