Updated: Oct 20
Did you know that music might be able to connect you with your family members affected by Alzheimer's disease (AD) in a way that words cannot? Many studies have shown that music can evoke a response or a memory in people with Alzheimer's Disease. For example, a person may have difficulty finding the right words to use but be able to sing an entire song with no problem. Musical memories are often preserved in Alzheimer's Disease because key brain areas linked to musical memory are relatively spared by the disease.
In fact, generally, in people with Alzheimer's Disease, their memory for music is unaffected, and they perform similarly to those without the disease recognizing songs and lyrics. In Alzheimer's Disease, music therapy can reduce agitation, relieve stress, reduce anxiety and depression, stimulate more facial movements, improve motor and verbal skills, and provide emotional and behavioral benefits.
If you would like to use music to help a loved one who has Alzheimer's Disease, consider these few tips:
1. Think about your loved one's preferences
What kind of music does your loved one enjoy the most? What music evokes memories and happy times in his or her life? Ask family and friends to suggest songs and make a playlist accordingly.
2. Set the mood
To calm your loved one during mealtime or a morning hygiene routine, play music or sing a song that's soothing. When you would like to boost your loved one's spirit, use upbeat or faster-paced music.
3. Sing along
Singing along to music together with your loved one can boost your mood and enhance your relationship. Some studies suggest that musical memory functions differently than other types of memory, and singing can help stimulate unique memories.
4. Encourage movement
Help your loved one to clap or tap along with their feet to the rhythm of the music played. If possible, consider dancing with him or her.
5. Pay attention to the response
If your loved one seems to enjoy particular songs, play them more often. If he or she reacts negatively to a particular tune or song, choose something else immediately.
6. Avoid overstimulation
When playing music, eliminate if possible any other competing noises. Turn off the TV, radio, or cell phone. Close the door. Set the volume of the music based on your loved one's hearing ability. If you use a radio, choose music that is not interrupted by commercials, which can create confusion in your loved one.
In conclusion, music therapy can be a powerful tool in helping patients with Alzheimer's Disease. It can help to stimulate the brain, evoke memories, and reduce anxiety and agitation. With some thoughtful planning and attention, incorporating music into your loved one's daily routine can provide emotional and behavioral benefits, and enhance the quality of life for both of you.
Domenico Praticò, MD, is the Scott Richards North Star Charitable Foundation Chair for Alzheimer’s Research, Professor and Director of the Alzheimer’s Center at Temple, and Professor of Pharmacology at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University