How Music Therapy Can Benefit People Living with Alzheimer’s Disease

May 31st, 2019

By: Sharon Roth Maguire, MS, RN, GNP-BC Chief Clinical Quality Officer, BrightStar Care

Senior with Alzheimer's playing piano with granddaughterAlzheimer’s disease causes loss of memory and severe cognitive illness. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, an estimated 5.8 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, and more than 16 million Americans care for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.

Persons living with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers can experience a high degree of stress due to the many challenges of this condition. There are a variety of approaches and caregiving resources available to help families navigate these difficult circumstances.
 
In recent years, numerous studies have shown that listening to music and participating in musical activities can improve the mood of those who have Alzheimer’s as well as boost their cognitive abilities. Let’s learn more about how music can relieve your loved one’s stress, reduce anxiety and depression, and lessen agitation.

Musical Rewards for People with Alzheimer’s

Even in the late stages of Alzheimer's, a loved one can tap to a beat or sing lyrics to a song from their youth. Music provides a way for them to connect, even after verbal communication has become difficult.

In 2018, University of Utah Health researchers found that music activates the salience network of the brain, an area spared from Alzheimer’s disease. The findings provide a different approach to managing anxiety, depression, and agitation in patients with dementia. The researchers also found that music can make Alzheimer’s symptoms more manageable and improve your loved one’s quality of life.
 
Many residential care facilities have music programming for older adults, but your loved one can also enjoy the benefits of music therapy at home. The Alzheimer’s Association has tips for selecting music: 

  • Select music that’s familiar and enjoyable to your loved one. If possible, let them pick the music.
  • Play music from a source that doesn't have commercials; the interruption of an ad can lead to confusion. 
  • Choose music that aligns with a desired mood. For example, soothing music can establish a calm environment, while a faster-paced song from a loved one’s youth may boost their spirit and remind them of happy memories.
  • Encourage your loved one to dance, clap, or sing along. 
  • Don’t use music as a background filler during meal time, and eliminate competing noises by shutting windows and turning off the television. Too much noise can be overwhelming or distracting.  

You can also bring instruments into your own home and give your loved one the opportunity to play instruments such as a rainstick (a hollowed out piece of wood that is filled with beads or pebbles and makes the sound of rain falling), xylophone, drum, or guitar. If your loved one plays a musical instrument, help them enjoy the instrument for as long as possible.
 
Related reading: Music Therapy and Activities for Seniors

Our One-of-a-Kind Approach to Alzheimer’s Care

To help a loved one living with dementia, family members will benefit from understanding ways to address the mood or behavior changes that accompany this condition. BrightStar Connections is our unique approach to Alzheimer's and dementia care. The lives of our clients are enriched by person-centered care that preserves dignity, provides assistance, and promotes activity in a setting that is comfortable and familiar – their home. Our mission goes beyond just personal safety and care – we are driven by establishing meaningful connections for your loved one. Our professional caregivers receive additional specialized training to understand how to best connect with those living with dementia. A BrightStar Care Registered Nurse oversees the care as well as provides education and support for not only the care team but the client and family as well.
 
Call BrightStar Care® today at 866-618-7827 to learn more about our specialized Alzheimer’s and dementia home care services and find a location near you.