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Can Music Really Engage Your Loved One with Dementia?

Most of us will readily acknowlege the power of music in our lives. While our individual tastes may differ, we have our favorite songs and delight to the memories they bring back to us. For individuals with dementia, music takes on added importance. This is often because music has the power to connect to those with dementia in ways that other sensory experiences may not.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, studies show that music can lessen behavioral issues and even reduce levels of agitation, common among those struggling with dementia. This is true even as the disease enters later stages. While an individual may forget the identity of the person sitting next to them, they may still be able to tap their feet to a song they recall from their youth. Music can continue to communicate to us, even when verbal communication has become difficult.

What does this mean for family caregivers of loved ones with dementia? It means that there may be ways to engage and connect through music when your words can no longer reach them. Here are some tips to harness the power of music and use it in a positive way, giving it every chance of breaking through to your loved one:

  1. What were their favorite tunes? Today with internet downloads available, it’s much easier to search and locate vintage music. You can even share snippets of songs with your loved one. Let them choose what they want to hear.
  2. Find a music source that doesn’t have commercial interruptions. While this is a mere annoyance for those of us with normal cognitive abilities, for someone with dementia, a commercial interruption can create unnecessary confusion leading to higher levels of anxiety.
  3. Select the music to create a mood. When your loved one is feeling anxious, pick a more tranquil music selection to soothe and lessen their anxiety. If you are encouraging them to get up and do some light exercises, select something more upbeat to pick up the pace.
  4. Encourage your loved one to sing along to the music. Start by leading off yourself and let your loved one join in. You can tap your feet, clap and dance to add further enjoyment.
  5. Know when to turn the music down or stop altogether. Music is stimulating for all of us, even more so for those with dementia. Monitor your loved one’s reaction to the music session. Are they enjoying it? Or are they showing signs of becoming overstimulated? Lower the volume or turn the music off. Your sessions will be more enjoyable.

The natural connection to music is powerful, even in later stages of dementia. As the Alzheimer’s Organization notes, Ashley Campbell, widow of country music legend, Glen Campbell, was able to stay connected with her husband through his music until the very end of his life. Music was such a major part of their lives and both of them found solace in the familiarity of sharing that music with each other and those around them. You can too!