Music and Alzheimer’s Disease: How Sound Can Play a Role in Symptom Management
Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease can feel like an endless guessing game of which symptoms will take center stage each day.
Since there isn’t a cure for Alzheimer’s yet, many people turn to music therapy to manage symptoms and allow their loved one’s true personality to shine through once again.
Music for Alzheimer’s patients can be like an express train to memory lane, even when the disease seems to have a firm grip.
And that’s not the only potential benefit of music for Alzheimer’s patients.
Keep reading to learn:
- How music helps Alzheimer’s symptom management
- The science behind why music can help people with Alzheimer’s
- How to incorporate music for Alzheimer’s patients; and
- Tips for integrating music and Alzheimer’s therapy
Table of Contents
Can Music Therapy Help Alzheimer’s?
Music therapy can offer a variety of benefits to help patients through each stage of the disease, especially later, when patients may experience an inability to communicate and connect with others verbally.
Although music therapy won’t slow the progression of Alzheimer’s, it can offer benefits that help improve behavioral and cognitive symptoms.
Why Does Music Help People With Alzheimer’s?
According to a study published in the Journal of Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease, music stimulates multiple parts of the brain simultaneously, including areas that affect:
- Memory; and
Music activates these regions, also known as the …
- Executive; and
… networks and prompts them to communicate with each other.
Research has also pinpointed that as music activates the salience network, this region of the brain remains relatively untouched by Alzheimer’s disease, while other areas of the brain may have deteriorated.
That means that music can be used as a powerful tool to access memories and activate language and emotions even in the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
Music that has personal meaning to your loved one might even help to manage other Alzheimer’s symptoms.
How Music Helps Alzheimer’s Patients: 3 Benefits You May Witness
#1: Improvement in Behavioral and Psychological Symptoms
Have you ever noticed how a song can take you from a horrible mood to a big smile in a matter of minutes?
That’s the power of music – and its reach isn’t just limited to the cognitively abled.
The right music may even be able to reach your loved one living with dementia.
Studies in Alzheimer’s patients have shown music can:
- Reduce agitation
- Improve mood
- Relieve stress
- Reduce anxiety; and
- Improve symptoms of depression
Further research shows music can have positive effects on general behavioral and psychological symptoms of people with various types of dementia.
A 2020 study also found that exposure to personalized musical playlists helped to decrease distressed aggressive behavior in nursing home residents with dementia.
#2: Improvement in Physical Health
Individuals with dementia are at a higher risk of falling and experience a greater rate of decline in gait. People living with dementia fall twice as often and are more likely to sustain an injury from a fall than those who are cognitively aware.
Exercise can help improve your loved one’s physical health and lower their risk of fall and music might be just the right motivator to help them move their body.
Music therapy is a great way to inspire healthy physical movement.
Rhythm can encourage your loved one to engage in purposeful movements like …
- Swaying; and
… that creates a therapeutic setting for physical health.
Dance is considered a form of aerobic exercise, but you don’t need to break a sweat to see the benefits, even small, controlled movements can help improve:
- Endurance; and
- Motor function
#3: Improvement in Communication
Alzheimer’s can make effective communication with a loved one difficult, but music can help rebuild that connection.
Music can help improve nonverbal communication by stimulating body language and movement.
Music provides a way of communicating for those who find it challenging to express themselves in words. By invoking emotions and facilitating movement, music can act as an outlet for expression and emotional support for Alzheimer’s patients and their loved ones.
The symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease can cause patients to stop being affectionate with loved ones.
Dancing or swaying to the music can provide opportunities that restore those lost connections and feelings of love and affection.
Recent reports have also found that adults with dementia who participate in interactive music interventions that involve …
… experience an improvement in behavioral and psychological symptoms.
These reports concluded that music therapy can provide an effective model to support …
- Social; and
How To Incorporate Music for Alzheimer’s Patients
You don’t have to be a music therapist to incorporate music therapy and Alzheimer’s disease patients or those living with dementia.
There are many ways you can incorporate music throughout the day like:
- Playing music in the background during daily routines
- Setting aside intentional time to listen to music each day
- Attending groups and events that encourage singing and movement
- Showing live concerts on television
- Creating playlists of music centered around different themes
7 Tips for Integrating Music and Alzheimer’s Therapy
#1: Consider Musical Preferences
It’s important to practice person-centered care when integrating music and Alzheimer’s therapy by paying special attention to the individual.
To invoke fond memories and promote a happy mood, consider the musical preferences of the person with Alzheimer’s.
The goal is for them to connect with familiar music which may prompt a happy reminiscing mood.
Think about what kind of music your loved one enjoys.
What songs evoke memories of happy times in their life?
Finding the right song to reach your loved one with dementia may be difficult.
Still most people tend to remember popular songs from when they were teenagers through their early 20s.
You can even get family and friends involved by asking them to suggest songs or make playlists.
#2: Work With a Music Therapist
Studies link music therapy and Alzheimer’s disease patients, showing significant improvements in …
- Mood; and
From curating and listening to personalized playlists to singing or playing an instrument, working with a music therapist may look different based on your loved one’s relationship with music.
The key is to tailor each session to the individual.
If you can’t work with a music therapist for individualized therapy sessions, seek out group activities geared towards adults with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Group sessions can still be shaped to bring joy to participants.
At Senior Services of America, our assisted living and memory care facilities for seniors with dementia provide music therapy programs in a nurturing, residential environment.
#3: Avoid Interruptions
Allow your senior to get lost in the music without interruption.
When listening to music with your loved one, it’s best to play music from sources without ads.
Commercials can be jolting and cause confusion.
Setting aside a dedicated time that won’t be interrupted by other distractions like phone calls or visitors is also important.
#4: Prevent Overstimulation
Try to avoid overstimulation when playing music by eliminating competing noises.
Turn off the television and other media. Close the door and windows if it’s too noisy.
Be sure to prevent overstimulation from the music by adjusting the volume to your loved one’s comfort level.
#5: Set the Right Mood
Music can help you set the mood for different activities throughout the day, like:
- Getting up in the morning
- Mealtimes; and
- Evening hygiene routines
To set a calming mood for your loved one, play music or sing a soothing song.
When they’re ready for a boost in energy, you can use more upbeat or faster-paced music.
#6: Encourage Interaction With the Music
Encourage movement and interaction with the music by helping your loved one clap along or tap their toes to the rhythm.
If they’re physically able, you can even try a slight swaying or dancing.
Singing along to music together can also strengthen your bond and create new memories.
Some studies also suggest musical memory functions differently than other types of memory, and singing can give unique memories staying power.
#7: Gauge Reactions and Adjust Accordingly
Pay attention to your loved one’s response to a certain song or artist.
If they seem to be enjoying themselves, play that song often.
If there is no response or a negative response, avoid that music in the future.
Alzheimer’s and Music Therapy May Not Be Effective for Every Patient
Although many studies report the benefits of music for Alzheimer’s patients, everyone is different, and some people may not see results.
While, in some cases, music may help ease your mood, the wrong music can cause distress and increased anxiety.
Many factors in music including the …
- Melody; and
… can impact your mental state.
Even certain lyrics can represent a negative mindset and increase your feelings of sadness.
Or, if your loved one didn’t particularly enjoy music as a part of their life, they may not find it to be motivating or uplifting –– and that’s okay.
At Senior Services of America, you’ll find our assisted living and memory care communities offer many different types of therapies and engagements. So even if music therapy doesn’t spark results, something else might.
Senior Services of America: Communities Offering Intentional Alzheimer’s Therapy Options
At Senior Services of America, we understand caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease can be difficult and overwhelming.
That’s why we offer a range of intentional Alzheimer’s therapy options at each of our memory care communities.
We create individualized care and service plans for our residents with Alzheimer’s and other dementias.
Our goal is to enrich the lives of our residents with positive reinforcement and a variety of effective programs.
Find your nearest Senior Services of America community today to see what we have to offer.
The content in this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.