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Music is the Language of Dementia

Posted on: Jul 21, 2020

“Mozart is Better than Meds”

This week Christian Horizons enters its sixth week of an 8-week campaign to improve the lives of its residents living with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia. 

The premise of the campaign are that socialization and activity remain important for people living with dementia, despite the challenges of the COVID 19 environment. Each week staff will focus on a specific topic or activity to encourage connection and community – particularly important during this time of limited family visits and infection control.

This week’s focus is on the benefits of music in dementia care.

Music is, as the famed neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks has written, “essential for neurological patients.” Why is this the case?

It turns out that in persons with dementia, music and song lyrics have more staying power than words and language. The person with dementia may stumble over words in a sentence and may forget a close family member’s name, but they can still perfectly sing a favorite song or church hymn. 

Music has so many benefits for people with dementia. It can help:

Recall memories and emotion – A healing church hymn or a favorite popular song evokes smiles and feelings of happiness.

Laugh and enjoy feelings of happiness – Moving to the music, rhythm, tapping your feet and clapping releases energy, supports laughter and can be calming.

Relieve stress and agitation – Music can help a person move away from a troubling worry, particularly something uplifting like an old Beach Boys song or dance-able country western tune.

Experience a reduction in dementia related behavior– An environment rich in music and singing can reduce behavior that is challenging such as aggression or paranoia and reduce the need for psychotropic medication. It is often said that “hugs are better than drugs.” In this case, “Mozart is better than meds!” 

Sharpen concentration and cognition – Studies have shown that singing can improve focus and thinking. 

Experience feelings of success and self-esteem – Successfully singing an old song or singing with us helps the person with dementia experience feelings of success. 

To support more music programming Christian Horizons recommends:

Access – Be sure that you have available music in your care setting. Is it loud enough for all to hear?

Life Story workTry to access your family member’s favorite music through streaming services or your collection of CDs. If your mother loves Tony Bennett or opera, make those available. If you father loves church music, enjoy those hymns together. 

Sing in the showerMusic during a bath or shower (or other personal care) can help relax the person and lead to a more successful experience. 

Stream concerts or old movie musicals Old movie musicals or the growing number of online concerts can be enjoyed by you and your family member even during this COVID-19 time. 

One on OneEven on a busy and stressful day, singing together for short moment, can help build friendship and connection during this difficult time. 

Music has one more benefit – it is good for all of us. If you are a stressed-out caregiver, music can provide you with some uplifting and relaxing moments.

For a copy of Music and Memory, Tips for Music Programming, contact your local Christian Horizons community.

David Troxel, MPH, co-author of The Best Friends Approach to Dementia Care and Consultant to Christian Horizons Pathway Memory Support Program