The Benefits of Music and Storytelling in Memory Care

September 17, 2021
Millions of Americans are living with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, and millions more are affected because they love someone with one of these diseases. While there isn’t a cure for either just yet, research suggests that art and music therapy may be beneficial. Art, music, and storytelling help reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and agitation – all emotions commonly associated with memory loss. These activities are all excellent ways to stay connected with a loved one living with dementia or Alzheimer’s. Read on for some of the benefits of music and storytelling in memory care.

Storytelling is part of our personal and cultural identities
Storytelling is a time-honored tradition woven into the very fabric of humanity. Even the earliest civilizations had storytellers and historians who preserved stories about their people, customs, lands, beliefs, values, legends, and more. Individuals also have stories about their lives to tell. Storytelling is entertaining and encourages social interaction, but it is also a significant part of someone’s identity. Your memories and anecdotes reveal a lot about who you are and what you value. Storytelling offers a great way to stay connected with someone suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s. Whether it’s going through an old family photo album and telling stories about the people in the photographs or sharing a picture book and asking simple questions about the characters, storytelling keeps people engaged.

Stories allow you to connect in a meaningful way
It can be challenging learning how to communicate with someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s. Storytelling can help you and your loved one improve your communication skills. While someone with memory loss may find it frustrating trying to recall specific facts or memories, storytelling allows them to escape to a fictional world and use their imagination. Whether sharing real or imagined narratives, storytelling is a way for you to connect with each other. Sharing stories strengthens the human bond and spirit in profound ways not fully explored by the medical or scientific communities.

The arts can improve people’s quality of life and moods
Storytelling, art, and music can all help improve a person’s quality of life. Creative therapies encourage self-expression, which can help someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s preserve their sense of self while expressing themselves creatively. Due to their calming qualities, music and art therapy are often used in care facilities to help patients and their caregivers deal with the emotional and behavioral issues caused by these diseases. Mood swings are quite common among people with dementia or Alzheimer’s, but creative therapies can help deescalate, improve moods, and encourage relaxation. Someone once said music soothes the soul. You’d be amazed by how much art, music, and storytelling help individuals destress and feel less lonely or isolated. The arts connect us all and remind us of our humanity and shared connections with others.

Art and music therapy help patients avoid overstimulation
For many with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, overstimulation by bright lights, loud noises, and the bustling activity around them can lead to behavioral issues. When you allow people to focus on one activity such as storytelling, art, or music, it can help them block out all the white noise around them causing feelings of anger, fear, irritation, or confusion. Art and music therapy can create a peaceful environment and even evoke pleasant memories or feelings associated with certain colors and songs.

Musical memories may be undamaged by disease
If you’re the caregiver of someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s, creating a playlist of your loved one’s favorite musical artists, songs, and genres can help you feel connected to them. Try singing along with the music together. You may be surprised to learn that your loved one can still remember some of the lyrics. Some studies suggest musical memories may be linked to the brain’s long-term memories, which generally sustain less damage from the disease. Music encourages recognition and memory recall in a way that is typically less frustrating for someone trying to recall names or facts. Allowing someone to feel empowered through musical recall can improve their self-esteem.

Music therapy also encourages exercise and movement
Many dementia and Alzheimer’s patients respond to music by smiling, clapping, or tapping their feet, promoting exercise, movement, and interaction. Sometimes, it can be difficult to keep people engaged enough to move, but luckily, music can often accomplish this for you. Music transcends past communication barriers existing between generations and even cultures to provide a unique multi-sensory experience like no other. Pay attention to your loved one’s response to particular music. If a certain genre or song seems to reach them inside, play it frequently for them. Likewise, if a specific genre or song appears to inspire an adverse reaction, try switching to something else less upsetting.

Storytelling, art, and music stimulate the brain and learning
There has been much research suggesting a link between storytelling, art, and music and brain stimulation. Engaging in the arts encourages learning new skills, such as storytelling, painting, drawing, singing, and dancing. Mastering new skills can go a long way in making someone feel accomplished, improving their self-esteem and making them feel valued by their loved ones. Some studies also suggest that music and storytelling can help seniors with memory loss comprehend and even relate better to basic everyday tasks. Keep in mind that further research must be done on the subject, and not all people living with Alzheimer’s and dementia may respond to storytelling, art, or music in the same way. However, if you can tap into new ways to improve your loved one’s quality of life, isn’t it worth the effort?

BrightStar Care® specializes in Alzheimer’s and dementia care
With locally owned and operated agencies across the country, BrightStar Care® specializes in Alzheimer’s and dementia in-home senior care. Our highly trained nurses, CNAs, caregivers, and therapists help seniors with Alzheimer’s or dementia live with dignity and purpose in the comfort of their own homes. To learn more about our in-home senior care options, please contact us today.