We’ve all experienced the power of music at some point in our lives. Music has helped us enhance our mood, calmed us down or allowed us to express ourselves, communicating thoughts and feelings we couldn’t otherwise say. For those who are living with memory loss such as Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, music is a particularly beneficial communication tool.
“Music therapy is one of the many holistic treatments we use for our memory care residents,” says Elaine Austin, Executive Director at Provident Village at Creekside in Smyrna, GA. “Not only does it help families find a source of emotional and physical connection with their loved one, but music therapy goes beyond that to provide natural agitation management, cognitive stimulation, mood enhancement and other benefits for those with memory loss.
“We encourage family caregivers to give music therapy a try. When utilized correctly, music can work in ways other care techniques can’t, ultimately benefiting both the caregiver and their loved one.”
The Science Behind Music Therapy
According to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA), music has a profound effect on people with memory loss because “rhythmic and other well-rehearsed responses require little to no cognitive or mental processing. They are influenced by the motor center of the brain that responds directly to auditory rhythmic cues. A person’s ability to engage in music, particularly rhythm playing and singing, remains intact late into the disease process because, again, these activities do not mandate cognitive functioning for success.”
One study described in an Alzheimers.net article, “5 Reasons Why Music Boosts Brain Activity,” showed that music therapy significantly enhances mental performance by engaging multiple parts of the brain. Researchers measured the brain activity of Alzheimer’s participants during a singing session. While singing engaged the left side of the brain, listening to the music activated the right side, and watching the instructor activated visual areas of the brain. When used correctly, music therapy can give Alzheimer’s patients a stimulating brain workout.
Music also creates emotions in a way nothing else can, leading to possible memory recall and reminiscing. Research shows that listening to music can increase levels of melatonin, a hormone that regulates mood, lowers aggression and reduces depression, so even into the late stages of the disease, music therapy helps influence behavior and emotion.
Providing Music Therapy for Your Loved One
With a little creativity, you can provide music therapy for your loved one at home and unlock its beneficial powers. Experts in memory care, such as those at the AFA and Sherri Snelling, CEO and founder of Caregiving Club and author of the article “Caregivers Take Note – Music as Therapy,” suggest ways for caregivers to apply music therapy to the daily care of their loved ones. Ideas and advice include:
- For early-stage memory loss: Go out dancing, see a live concert or performance, encourage them to try playing an instrument they once played.
- Try couple dancing. This can often lead to hugs and comforting caresses that are otherwise rare.
- Use upbeat music to get them moving. Playing music while exercising can help with gait and balance. This can also help your loved one follow a routine if you play the same kind of music each time, readying them for an exercise session.
- Choose music mindfully. Play music with a steady, percussive beat if your goal is to help stimulate your loved one. If you want to help them calm down or prepare for bed, soothing and quiet songs work best.
- Select music from happy times. Music from a loved one’s early adult years (18-25) has been shown to have the most positive effects.
- Use a source of music without interruptions. Radio stations have frequent interruptions for advertisements, which could confuse your loved one. CDs, iTunes playlists and Internet radio sites such as Pandora or Spotify keep the music (and mood!) flowing.
- Involve the grandkids. Music therapy is a great way to involve younger family members. Ask your children to make a CD or playlist of your loved one’s favorite songs.
- Encourage movement. Clap or sway, as you and your loved one listen to music.
- Avoid sensory overload. Find a place for music therapy without a lot of background noises. Turn off the TV and ask others in the room to avoid conversations unless they are helping with the music therapy.
Making Music for Moments of Joy
“At Provident Village at Creekside,” explains Austin, “we are always working to find new ways for our residents to live vibrantly, and music therapy does that for so many of our memory care residents and families. Music creates common ground for everybody, which builds connections and community. Group music therapy activities bring all of us, residents and team members alike, together for happy moments.
“We use music therapy for more than just its remarkable emotional benefits, though. It also promotes mental and physical activity, provides brain stimulation and encourages communication between caregivers and the person with memory loss. Music is a great tool for coordinating motor skills and reaching other parts of the brain that memory loss keeps us from accessing.
“Our professional care team is dedicated to creating vibrant, life-enriching days to bring meaning, purpose and joy to those in our memory care community, but we’re also committed to making a positive impact on families everywhere who are living with the challenges of memory loss and Alzheimer’s. We know every loved one deserves the best care possible, and we want to be a valuable resource to help caregivers provide high-quality care. You’re invited to join us for educational events and programs our community is hosting for family caregivers. To learn about upcoming events, check out the events calendar on our website.”
Live Vibrantly! at Provident Village at Creekside
At Provident Village at Creekside, we believe vibrant days ensure bright tomorrows, so we’ve created a community where seniors, quite simply, Live Vibrantly! Whether it’s in our Assisted Living Community or Memory Care Neighborhood, each day we celebrate the individuality and strengths of each resident.
At Provident Village, to Live Vibrantly! means that days are filled with joy, vitality, growth and security. It means residents are socially active and personally empowered, with access to the personalized care and support they need to live fully. It means residing in a community where intellectual, social, emotional, spiritual and physical care are seamlessly integrated into everyday life.
Our compassionate Care Partners dedicate each day to enriching the lives of our residents. They customize the level of attention and activities to each resident’s specific needs and abilities. Our living environments are warm and inviting, with comfortable furnishings, beautiful fixtures and natural elements that bring the outdoors inside.