By Carol Combs, MSW – Oxford’s Memory Care Program Coordinator
While working in a skilled nursing facility, I had the opportunity to witness remarkable things. I was amazed to see individuals with dementia who could not put together a sentence, but could sing an entire song. Their faces would brighten, and I could see mood changes along with toe tapping and smiles. Soon, others would join in. Although the disease had taken so much away from them, music was a wonderful way to engage and encourage them.
The language area of the brain is impacted early in the Alzheimer’s disease process, but music touches a different part of the brain. The area of the brain linked to music is relatively unaffected by Alzheimer’s disease; so musical memories are often preserved. Rhythmic responses require little to no cognitive processing; so, a person’s ability to engage in music—particularly rhythm playing and singing—remains intact late into the disease process. Some individuals will respond to music when nothing else seems to reach them.
Music can provide emotional and behavioral benefits for dementia sufferers. Listening to music or singing can relieve stress and reduce agitation, anxiety or depression. For caregivers, music is a way to connect with loved ones who have difficulty communicating. Most people associate music with important events and emotions, and selections from a person’s young adult years—ages 18-25—are more likely to elicit a strong response. As an individual progresses into later stage dementia, music from childhood works well. Although individuals may not be able to verbalize or demonstrate affection with loved ones, they can still move with the beat of a favorite piece of music until very late in the disease process.
- Experiment with different types of music to see which evoke the best reaction.
- Play music or sing as the individual is walking to improve balance or gait.
- Choose relaxing music, a familiar, non-rhythmic song to reduce sun downing or bedtime issues.
- Compile a musical history of favorite recordings to help with reminiscing and recalling memories.
- Encourage movement with the music —clapping or tapping feet, or dancing if possible.
- Play or sing soothing songs to calm someone during mealtime or personal hygiene care.
- When playing music, eliminate competing noises such as television or outdoor sounds.
Singing is associated with safety and security from early life. When caregivers engage in singing with their loved ones, it provides an opportunity to connect, even when the disease has deprived them of traditional forms of closeness.
“Music is the literature of the heart; it commences where speech ends.”
― Alphonse de Lamartine
Oxford Hospice provides numerous home care programs—including music therapy—to help caregivers and their loved ones. Oxford HealthCare is dedicated to helping families enjoy time together and remain at home. If you have questions about Oxford Hospice, Oxford’s Memory Care Program or receiving help at home, please contact a Care Coordinator, today.
Source: Alzheimer’s Foundation of America