How does music make you feel? Think about some of your favorite songs. What are some special times that you associate with certain songs? Music can shape our emotions and provoke our memories because it is embedded deep in our brains. Because music is so deeply ingrained in our brains, sometimes singing can be easier than talking for a person with dementia. Studies show that music can help persons with dementia in many cognitive areas and help them with agitation and behavioral issues. Listening to music is a terrific way to socialize and offers people with Alzheimer’s disease opportunities to express their emotions. It can help them to reminisce about the past and draw out those retained memories. Consider lullabies or “our song” that was shared with a loved one. Christmas carols can bring back memories of past holidays and traditions. Hymns or religious songs may play an important role to someone with dementia. Music can help them to access and recall those past memories.
When selecting music for an individual, choose music that was popular when they were in their late teens or early 20’s, this is typically the time frame they are currently living in. Make sure if they wear hearing aids that they are in and working properly. Monitor the person closely to be sure that the music is not creating too much stimulation, or try using headphones to alleviate background noise. Remember that music can evoke good and bad memories.
There are also many physical advantages of listening to music. It can lower blood pressure, respiration and decrease pain levels. Music has been shown to positively affect gait and increase range of motion. Repetitive movements in people with dementia now become purposeful when we add the beat of the music. Did you know that dancing to music is the only thing that stimulates every part of the brain?
Many individuals in the later stages of Alzheimer’s disease will become completely nonverbal, but can still sing songs from the past such as Happy Birthday, Amazing Grace, The Star Spangled Banner or Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round The Old Oak Tree and so on. Music is unique to each person and is a part of our personal history and culture. It is a means of self-expression. Music helps define who we are. With music we are now able to communicate and connect on common ground without using words.
For a real life example of how powerful music can be check out this video; Gladys Wilson and Naomi Feil