Connecting through Music with People with Dementia: A Guide for Caregivers

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The critical thing is that we want to have the music spark the memories and then for us to engage with the person in why the song is important to them. This is where we find the human connection. Research conducted by our company indicates that music that was familiar and popular at the time that musical memories developed between the ages of eight and 20 resonates with the older person and produces highly favorable outcomes.

The result is a calmer, more receptive care recipient capable of more rapidly making connections and completing thoughts. Music helps with distracting a person from pain or other physical symptoms. It also helps with redirection, elevates mood, promotes relaxation, and reduces agitation and wandering.

Music brings families together. Use music the patient loves. Get them singing along either a capella [without instrumental accompaniment] or via recorded music. The research is becoming clearer that physical exercise is very good for folks with dementia. Music helps someone with dementia by motivating them to engage in various types of movement. Examples range from activities including: Simple toe-tapping Finger-tapping Hand-clapping Reaching for instruments Shaking and hitting instruments Singing and making oral movements Full-on ballroom dancing with a partner Regarding emotions, music is an emotionally rewarding stimulus and experience for most people.

There is music associated with some of our most cherished memories, be it the first dance at your wedding or the sounds of the holidays. In the degenerative process of dementia, the emotion centers of the brain stay intact and functional for a very long time. This opens up a tremendous amount of opportunity when working with someone who has dementia.

Furthermore, research demonstrates that music has a significant impact an agitation as well. Develop a comprehensive music intake form that collects the relevant music information for each individual. What song was played? The best bet when shooting in the dark is to start with songs that were popular when the individual was between the ages 13 and 21 years old. Music gets the toes tapping and the blood flowing! Take their hands and dance with them, whether sitting or standing, and move to the beat! To stimulate deep breathing and vocal production, encourage loved ones to sing along to familiar tunes.

But remember this: Not everyone likes a solo! Sing WITH the person to create deeper, meaningful connections. Music can be a great way to communicate emotions when words begin to fail. Repetition is your friend! When people and places from day-to-day life become difficult to recognize, a familiar song is like gold.

Connecting through Music with People with Dementia : A Guide for Caregivers

Every person values different songs for different reasons. Any song may be a key to unlocking past memories or associations, which may be difficult for those with dementia to retrieve on their own. Music is a whole-brain experience. When we listen to, move to, and create music, our brains are activated in many different areas. As the brain deteriorates through the process of dementia, music has the power to impact the active parts of the brain, creating opportunities for a person who may otherwise be out of reach.

Connecting through Music with People with Dementia: A Guide for Caregivers

Research indicates that through various musical interventions, an individual can experience an increase in immunoglobulins, a decrease in cortisol, and a release of endorphins, which in turn can improve mood while also decreasing pain and agitation. Caregivers may not be aware of the deep-rooted connections a person has with particular songs. Caregivers should also remember to use music for themselves as a means to de-stress and cope with their feelings as they care for a loved one or are in a work setting caring for many individuals. Every person will resonate with different pieces of music and songs depending on their preferences.

Music is special because it can have a physical and emotional effect on anybody. This is because humans appear to be neurologically and physiologically hard-wired for music. The automatic neurological and physiological responses that we have toward music and its related properties, such as rhythm, tempo, melody, and harmony, make music something that can be accessible for someone with dementia at any stage of the disease. With someone who has dementia, music can be helpful for facilitating movement and beneficial physical activity.

These movement and physical activities can include being redirected towards the various activities of the day, or activities of daily living. Music can also inspire one to feel motivated to move as part of a consciously-designed exercise program, or even to move spontaneously, such as through dancing. Another physical activity that music can help reinforce and support is physical therapy, as music can provide structure and pacing for the exercises—but seek consultation from a physical therapist and a qualified music therapist beforehand.

Emotionally, music can help reduce anxiety and agitation, which can be a significant problem for someone with dementia, which can affect their caregiver s. Music can be helpful for refocusing attention and reorienting to the present moment. With this, music can uplift us, inspire us, but also help us experience emotions that we may otherwise try to deny and suppress.

Likewise, music can stimulate memories that can be shared with others, especially caregivers. Know what styles of music the person likes. Do they have a favorite musician or artist? A favorite song? When selecting music, think about how the tempo i. Observe how the person is responding to the music or a particular song. Or perhaps that particular song is causing them physical discomfort, due to the qualities of the music and their own auditory processing issues.


  1. Further Resources | Arts 4 Dementia.
  2. Bonbon-piment (French Edition).
  3. Tips for Alzheimer’s and Dementia Caregivers.
  4. Caregiver’s Guide to Understanding Dementia Behaviors.

As well, the song could be triggering painful memories or emotions. Keep these possibilities in mind and be observant. Be available to be present with a person through music.

Caregiver’s Guide to Understanding Dementia Behaviors

Music can bring people closer together, and it can be an especially meaningful way to get to know someone better, as well as to better understand their inner state. Not everyone likes the same kind of music, and even among those who like the same kind of music, their reasons may not be the same.

Along with this, our emotional responses to music can shift and vary with our life experiences. Music relaxes a person with dementia and promotes memory recall. I have seen very agitated people calmed almost instantly by music. It also stimulates hand movement and toe-tapping.

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Use large headphones. Be sure to talk to the person you put headphones on, and touch their hand to get their attention. Also check the volume levels. Start off quietly and increase the volume if you need to. Waltzes, carols, big band music.

Music can be used during music therapy to aid in the management of agitation, to increase emotional closeness, to facilitate in fine and gross motor movements, and to create opportunities for positive social interactions. There is so much that music can do for human beings that after 11 years in the field I am still in awe!

Use music the person preferred in their twenties.

Caregiver Training: Sleep Disturbances - UCLA Alzheimer's and Dementia Care Program

Often they can recall every word even in the later stages of dementia. Sing and talk about the songs and how they relate to the day. Songs they learned in their late teens and early twenties. What spoke to them at that time in their lives will most likely speak to them again! Songs that are associated with specific past events, such as a wedding, can often provoke the memory of those events. Physically, listening to music can: Lower blood pressure Assist in relaxing contracted muscles Increase breath support and lung capacity Regulate gate stride i.

Music can also be used to assist with anxiety through entrainment, breathing, and relaxation techniques.

Music & Dementia (Alzheimer’s): Can It Help Symptoms?

The most important thing to keep in mind is the music preference of the individual. If you use music that is not preferred, not only will it most likely not be effective, it could be harmful. Our bodies naturally become in sync with the strongest auditory stimuli. When a person with dementia is engaging with music that has a strong pulse or beat, it may encourage them to tap their toes, clap their hands, dance, or exercise with guidance.

This means that some music may elicit strong emotional responses in people with dementia—smiles or tears that arise from the feelings they have when they hear a song closely associated with their emotions. Caregivers may choose to play prerecorded songs that may be familiar to the person with dementia and encourage them to sing along, move to the music, or reminisce about the music, emotions associated with it, or a related topic based on the lyrics of the song.

Sometimes clapping along, tapping toes, or holding hands while listening can be a good way to connect with the person with dementia. The songs that are more likely to elicit strong emotional responses and active engagement for the person with dementia are the songs of their musical preference. They may not be able to communicate these preferences, so a good starting point is to explore songs and styles of music that were popular when the person with dementia was in their late teens and early twenties. Use contextual clues about their life and culture for making educated guesses about what music to present that they may enjoy or have been familiar with.

Music gives voice to the unspoken words that even individuals who are not afflicted in some way have difficulty expressing.