When a loved one has dementia, it can be so hard to connect with them. As the disease progresses, it becomes harder to continue conversations or keep up with the hobbies they once enjoyed. That’s why music can play such an important role in their care plan.
A recent study showed that enjoying music is one of the longest enduring abilities for people with dementia. Even patients in the most advanced stages of the disease are still able to connect over a familiar song. Music is so beneficial that the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America regularly puts out new articles and events on the topic. According to the AFA, “When used appropriately, music can shift mood, manage stress-induced agitation, stimulate positive interactions, facilitate cognitive function and coordinate motor movements.”
This probably isn’t all news to you. After all, most people would agree that listening to music can be relaxing. Sharing music with someone is a common way we connect with our friends and family. And we know that dancing comes naturally to people – just play some music to a baby and watch them start instantly moving to the rhythm.
So how can you use music as part of your loved one’s care plan?
1. Find time to just sit and listen to familiar music.
A great way to connect is to just sit down and put on some familiar tunes. Think about the music that you already know your loved one enjoys. Look for songs they probably already know the words to. Listening to music and singing along activates almost every part of the brain – especially if you nod your head or tap your foot along with the beat.
2. Watch older musicals that will bring back memories.
Older musicals with iconic songs are a great entertainment option for people with dementia. Of course, not everyone likes musicals. But a classic like The Sound of Music is a good starting point. There is something to please everyone between the historical setting, memorable songs, light love story, and adorable cast.
3. Use music as a tool for regulating your loved one’s mood.
To calm down an agitated person with dementia, play something slow and calming. Soothing songs will help your loved one relax. If your loved one seems to be feeling down, try some upbeat music with a faster beat.
4. Allow music to bring you closer together.
Many people with dementia are still very physically capable. Dancing to music – even if sitting down – is an amazing way to connect. Many people with dementia are uncomfortable with physical contact with those they don’t fully recognize. Holding hands or slow dancing helps your loved one get some much-needed physical contact in a non-threatening way. It’s also a great way to stay active for older adults who don’t have as many opportunities to stretch their muscles.
5. Reminisce about songs or singers from the past.
Do you know what your parents’ wedding song was? Find an old concert stub while cleaning mom’s room? Know that your grandma used to play piano at church? Music is a great way to spark conversations that might not otherwise start naturally. Put on a specific song and use it as a prompt. Play the wedding song and then say, “Tell me about your wedding.” Put on a specific artist and ask “Did you ever listen to this song with your friends?” You’ll be surprised at the memories that music can bring forward.
Music is one of the most powerful tools in your caregiver toolbox.