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Music Therapy is “Never Too Early Never Too Late” for Seniors with Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s disease has had an impact on the lives of millions of people, their families, friends, and caregivers. Alzheimer’s is one of the biggest and most concerning challenges my team and I face with our clients. I venture to guess that you, too, know someone who has Alzheimer’s or cares for someone with this dreadful disease.

World Alzheimer’s Day is recognized on September 21 annually, to raise awareness about Alzheimer’s Disease, and this year’s theme is “Never Too Early Never Too Late.” I like this because, in my opinion, it is never too early or never too late to gain a better understanding of Alzheimer’s disease and the positive ways we can all make a difference in the lives of our loved ones with Alzheimer’s.

Music therapy is one way that is Never Too Early Never Too Late for seniors with Alzheimer’s.

An article published by Northwestern Medicine explains, “Music evokes emotions and memories, which is why musical intervention has therapeutic benefits for people with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Musical interventions have been shown to decrease a patient’s agitation and improve communication and caregiver relationships.”

The bottom line is clear. Musical interventions are a solid win-win for everyone! So how can you apply this approach with your loved one with Alzheimer’s? Let’s explore the specific recommendations by a physician-musician, Dr. Borna Bonakdarpour, a neurologist at Northwestern Medicine who combines his love of music with research into musical interventions and their impacts.

Working with a trained music therapist

“Not all memories connected to music are pleasant memories,” says Dr. Banakdarpour. “A music therapist will work closely with your loved one and family to determine which types of music will elicit the best response.”

For example, a music therapist will guide you to find the types of music and instruments to play to help your loved one feel safe and happy, not anxious and agitated. Additionally, they can help to discern specifically where, when, and how to play certain music.

Doing it yourself 

Many people prefer DIY musical intervention practices. The following are suggestions to help:

  • Play music from your loved one’s teenage years or early 20s to encourage recall of long-term memory.
  • Carefully observe your loved one’s response. Pay attention to the types of music that invoke pleasure and serenity and play that type more often. On the other hand, please avoid music that causes visible anxiety or agitation.
  • Play music and instrumentation to soothe. Play the music that calms your loved one to redirect their focus away from things that cause agitation and frustration.
  • Use as needed. Start by playing music to calm your loved one when they are agitated, and slowly incorporate more music more routinely – even daily – if they are reacting positively.

Music Helps Caregivers to Alzheimer's Patients

Through Dr. Banakdarpour’s research, he found that music interventions also benefited caregivers of Alzheimer's patients by reducing their stress and anxiety. Communication between caregivers and patients improved, both verbally and non-verbally, as did eye contact. In his study, he found that the control group who did not do musical interventions, communication got worse.

“People with Alzheimer’s may come alive again when they hear music. Some start dancing alone or with their caregivers, which is a very big deal,” Dr. Banakdarpour said. “Caregivers find the person lost to them in the context of music.”

The late Tony Bennett is a prime example of how strongly and positively music impacted his life with Alzheimer’s. If you haven’t seen the CBS television special, One Last Time: An Evening with Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga,” I highly recommend you do.

I am a Certified Senior Advisor, not a music therapist. However, I truly understand the value of music therapy and I regularly encourage the compassionate caregivers I employ to play the music their clients enjoy most whenever possible and/or appropriate.

At Home Helpers®, the compassionate caregivers I employ are licensed, bonded, insured, and thoroughly background-checked, and many are specifically trained in Alzheimer’s and dementia care through our partnership with the National Certification Board for Alzheimer Care (NCBAC).

I welcome the opportunity to meet for a FREE consultation and assessment of needs so I can review the specialized care services Home Helpers® provides. I will answer all of your questions and ask some of my own to craft a customized care plan that is perfectly suited to make life easier and more harmonious for you or your senior loved one with Alzheimer’s disease.

We, at Home Helpers® Clearwater, are honored to have received the Home Care Pulse – Best of Home Care® Provider of Choice Award 2016-2022 and the Best of Home Care® Employer of Choice Award 2022. We proudly serve male and female seniors in Clearwater, Dunedin, Palm Harbor, Safety Harbor, Tarpon Springs, Holiday, New Port Richey, Trinity, Port Richey, Hudson, and surrounding areas. Home Helpers®…we are Making Life Easier℠ (727) 240-3059


Northwestern Medicine