Social media was recently set alight by an astonishing video of a woman named Marta Gonzalez, a former ballerina who, in advanced stages of dementia, was nevertheless able to listen to music from Swan Lake and perform graceful arm movements reflecting her former art. You can see the original video here. The video was shared by the Asociación Música para Despertar, a Spanish organisation that promotes music therapy for those afflicted by memory loss.
Music and emotion are linked in a powerful way – this is something we have known for a long time. Children respond to music from a very early age, even before words and language are developed, and this continues even towards the end of our lives, when verbal abilities may have been forgotten. The connection was displayed poignantly in the video clip of Gonzalez, who died in 2019.
You can use musical connection with your loved one – it has so many benefits and positive outcomes. It can:
- Help people with dementia express their feelings and ideas.
- Enable the person to connect with others around them.
- It can encourage social interaction.
- It can reduce social isolation.
- It can facilitate physical exercise and dance or movement.
It’s important to remember that sometimes music can awaken negative memories or have strong, upsetting triggers for the person with dementia, so it’s always best to try and find out what they loved when they were younger (have a look at record or tape collections, or failing that hunt out playlists from a decade of their youth). A few tears are normal as an emotional reaction, but any obvious distress or upset should be a clear indicator that it’s time to turn off for today. Also, if you’re using a streaming service like Amazon or Spotify, please remember that the unpaid versions can have loud and sudden adverts – so keep your finger hovered over the volume button!
For more ideas about how to incorporate music into your loved one’s life, see the website of Music for Dementia.