Does someone in your life have Alzheimer’s disease or dementia? It can feel overwhelming when our loved ones have difficulty remembering our names, who we are, and how to speak or perform activities of daily living. It may feel dementia has robbed your loved one of their personality. While there is still no cure for Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, there is a way to share meaningful experiences, which may be simpler than you think.
Music is processed and stored in multiple areas of the brain, making it nearly impossible to erase from one’s memory. Here are some ways you can connect with your loved ones using music at various stages of dementia.
- Sing a Song*: If your loved one is in an early stage of dementia, consider singing familiar songs together. You do not have to have a good voice to sing with your loved one! Pick songs you both know; songs they may have sung to you before, or songs from childhood. You may be surprised to hear your loved one singing every word to their favorite song, even if they may be having difficulty speaking conversationally.
- Listen to familiar songs*: Whether you find a record player and put on a record, or pull up a youtube video on your phone – find the music that you know is meaningful to your loved one, and sit and listen to it together.
- Dance together: Find a familiar song and invite your loved one to dance. Dancing can be done sitting or standing. Consider finding a lightweight scarf to inspire more arm movement and spatial awareness.
If your loved one is in a middle stage of dementia, they may forget the verses or words to some of their favorite songs, but they will most likely still remember the choruses of familiar songs. Continue singing, listening to familiar music, and dancing together.
In the late stages of dementia, a person may forget the words to songs, but rhythm and melody can still bring a great deal of comfort. Just as rhythm was the first element of music we all felt as children (being rocked back and forth and sung to by our mother); rhythm is also the last musical sense that we have when our other capacities fade. Consider singing a familiar song, holding hands, and swaying side to side gently while looking into your loved one’s eyes. Always read their reaction to guide your response; if music is making someone more agitated or is not enjoyable (look for facial expressions and body language to guide you), then consider stopping or trying something different.
Above all, remember to be present with your loved one. It can be heartbreaking for the person you have known and cared about to not be able to recognize you or remember your shared past. However, there is also the opportunity for both of you to share new experiences in the present moment, and music is a great way to do just that. The past may be out of reach for some with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, but the present moment is always available, for all of us.
A music therapist can also help you and your loved one reconnect. For more information on how music therapy helps people with Alzheimer’s and dementia, you can visit our page on music therapy and dementia and Alzheimer’s. You can also look at the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America’s resources on music therapy. Our therapists work with people with dementia and Alzheimer’s every week. We’d be happy to talk with you about how to further explore music therapy. Call us at 775-324-5521
*Disclaimer: Be aware that some music may trigger difficult or painful emotions, so it is important to remain present and find music that truly brings joy to your loved one. Think of music as a special part of the day that you share together, rather than having it on 24/7 in the background. Something that is on all day becomes less special and can actually become irritating.