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Music and Alzheimer’s: Tapping Into Those Hidden Memories

As we get deeper into the holiday season we can’t help but notice how music fills the air more than any other time of the year. We hear holiday music in our shopping malls, restaurants and, for many of us, in our homes.

Few would argue the influence that music has on our emotions and the tug at a memory or two when we hear a song out of our past. How often have you said “I remember where I was when I first heard this song,” or “This song always reminds me of…”

For those struggling with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, music is often the key to bringing fragments of past memories back into focus. Why is that?

Music stimulates our memories. Even for those with Alzheimer’s.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the areas of the brain that link to music memory often remain better connected than other areas which can be severely damaged by the disease. That is why a memory-impaired loved one may, in fact, respond when he or she hears a familiar tune.

The Alzheimer’s Association points out several therapeutic reasons to let the music play. Here are some key benefits:

  • Promotes a positive change in mood.
  • Provides a greater sense of control over one’s self.
  • Enables better management of pain and discomfort.
  • Stimulates interest when other methods prove ineffective.
  • Promotes an opportunity for social interaction.

So, what is the best way to introduce more music into the life of your memory-impaired loved one? Here are some suggestions (several courtesy of the Mayo Clinic):

  • Play the music your loved one prefers. For example, if he or she is an octogenarian, there may be a preference for big bands music, or Frank Sinatra tunes. For younger loved ones, other types of music may resonate. Let their reactions guide you.
  • Don’t over stimulate. Make sure extraneous noise is kept to a minimum. Turn off the TV and close the windows to keep out noises that may distract them.
  • Encourage movement. Encourage your loved one to clap their hands or tap their feet. If they want to get up and dance, dance with them!
  • Sing along! Research shows that singing along to a familiar tune can stimulate unique hidden memories.

Above all, pay close attention to the reaction of your loved one. Their reaction will tell you when to load up more tunes or when to end the music session.

Music plays a large role in all of our lives, no matter who we are or what our challenges may be. By incorporating music into the daily lives of loved ones struggling with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia, we can help them connect --- not only to the music, but to loved ones and the world around them.