Music is a great way to break through to people living with dementia. Music can help people recall memories and reconnect with emotions that can often disappear as they progress through their dementia journey. Studies both in the UK & USA have demonstrated that dementia and Alzheimer’s patients can recall memories and emotions, and have enhanced mental performance after singing.
Dr. Laura Mosqueda, Director of Geriatrics at the University of California, Irvine School of Medicine, explains that “Because music can affect so many parts of the brain, it touches areas that may not be damaged by the disease and brings those pathways to the forefront.” The result is that sometimes an “astounding awakening” can occur.
Researchers at Irvine were able to determine the effect music has on dementia patients, by leading half of the participants in the study through selected songs while the other half listened to the music being played. After the musical treatment, all participants took cognitive ability and life satisfaction tests which showed that participants scored significantly better when being lead through songs, rather than only listening.
Research continues into why music appears to have such a profound impact but for the moment here are some reasons why researchers believe that music boosts brain activity:
- The area of the brain associated with musical memory tends to be least affected by dementia. People can often recall music from their teens and 20s.
- Music appreciation is one of the last cognitive skills to be affected by dementia.
- The emotional content of music can bring back emotional memories.
- Music can reduce anxiety, depression, stress and agitation.
If you have a loved one or a caring for someone with dementia, here are some ideas to get you started.
Music and Dementia – uplifting and transformational
- When creating playlists, look for songs with special meaning for your loved one, such as favourite tunes from their teenage years. If you need ideas, ask family members for input (they may also appreciate the opportunity to help).
- Start with something gentle and play it softly. To avoid overstimulation, turn off the TV and other sources of noise.
- Enjoy music with your loved one by listening to songs together, singing, playing instruments or dancing.
- Music can evoke negative emotions and memories as well as positive, happy ones. When playing music for someone with dementia, watch how they react. If they appear to be enjoying it – singing, humming, tapping their feet – that’s a good sign. But if they become uncomfortable or upset, take a break and try again another time, with different songs.
- Look out for Dementia related singing groups in your area. Age UK run https://www.ageuk.org.uk/information-advice/health-wellbeing/conditions-illnesses/dementia/dementia-and-music/#