Senior Woman Listening to Music

Music and Memory: How Seniors Benefit from Music

Inspīr Senior Living Team

According to the Mayo Clinic, dementia is a group of symptoms that affect memory, thinking and social abilities in an estimated 55 million people worldwide. As dementia progresses, those with the disease often lose their ability to communicate with loved ones in the later stages of the disease. However, a study conducted by Northwestern University found that music creates an emotional connection between those with dementia and their caregivers by allowing them to interact with music through singing, dancing and playing instruments. Researchers also found that music memories remain in the brain even after language and cognitive skills begin to decline due to the disease. The parts of the brain that control musical memory and processing aren’t as affected by Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. This allows those with Alzheimer’s disease to dance and sing long after their ability to communicate has diminished. In addition to connecting with loved ones, music can provide a number of benefits to those living with dementia, especially for those who require memory care.

Benefits of Music for Memory Care Residents

At some point throughout the disease, those living with dementia may require the support of a memory care community. These communities are designed to provide safe and structured environments to lower stress for people with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. Many memory care communities, like Maplewood Senior Living, utilize the power of music to promote a sense of calm and decrease the risk of agitation and anxiety in those living with dementia. Research on the effects of music therapy suggests that it can provide improvements in memory recall, boost mood, reduce stress and anxiety, help manage pain and discomfort and encourage emotional intimacy with family members and caregivers. As Alzheimer’s and dementia progress, communication and connection can become more difficult. However, research has shown that music is linked to emotion and memory and can help families and caregivers find new ways of connecting with their loved ones.


Music and Emotion

In music therapy practices for those with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, music is used as a way to maintain or increase their levels of physical, mental, social, and emotional functioning. Music can evoke emotion and emotion often leads to recalling memories, especially when the song is from one’s past. In addition, by pairing music with everyday activities, memory care residents are able to develop a rhythm which helps them remember the activity and improve cognitive ability over time. As the disease progresses and communication becomes difficult, music is a great way to connect. Musical aptitude and appreciation are some of the last remaining abilities for dementia and Alzheimer’s patients. Music can help reach beyond the disease and access emotions in a different way. Familiar music from the past can be a powerful way to boost mood and reduce agitation. If your loved one is ambulatory, dancing can often lead to physical connection such as embracing and holding hands. 


Memory in Sound

Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia are degenerative diseases, which can make expressing basic needs more difficult. However, music can help those with Alzheimer’s disease communicate in non-traditional ways. Singing can offer structure and enable dialogue by stimulating different areas of the brain. Communicative actions such as pointing, laughing and smiling are common gestures used in music therapy to communicate needs and emotions. Music can also be used to provide a renewed sense of identity for those living with Alzheimer’s disease. Singing songs from the past and reliving memories through sound can help those with Alzheimer’s communicate stories and memories to their loved ones and caregivers.


Harnessing the Power of Music

You don’t have to be an expert to reap the benefits of music. In fact, the Alzheimer’s Association compiled a list of ways to reap the benefits of music with your loved with living with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. If you are a caregiver or are interested in music yourself, here are few tips for playing with music at home or during a visit with a loved one:

  • Play music that is familiar. When choosing what kind of music to play, go with your favorite selections. If you are choosing music for someone else, think back to what they grew up with, or music from the first concert they might have attended. When we play what we know, oftentimes happy memories will come with it, improving your mood and encouraging positive mental health.
  • Choose continuous music. Keep the distractions to a minimum. While playing the radio or music from an application on your smart phone can be enjoyable, it’s important to try and avoid commercials and frequent disruptions that can cause confusion. You might consider listening to a CD or record instead.
  • Use music to create the mood you want to experience. Music can be a great way to practice controlling your emotions. For example, if you’ve had a busy or stressful day, you might consider playing slow and calming music to help you think more clearly and slow your breathing. Playing a fast-paced song from your childhood could help boost your mood and evoke positive thoughts.
  • Encourage movement. If you are practicing music therapy with someone diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia, try adding movement while listening. Clapping, tapping your feet, or dancing if possible can help improve cognitive function by increasing blood flow throughout the body.
  • Avoid sensory overload. For those who have limited cognitive function, loud music and a chaotic environment can be extremely stressful. You might consider starting the music out softly on a low volume and increasing it slowly until you find the appropriate level. In addition, you might consider turning off the television and shutting the windows and doors.


Memory Care and Music at Inspīr Senior Living

At Inspīr Senior Living, we curate a harmonious environment and lifestyle that supports a philosophy of vibrant, intentional living and meaningful connection based on our Nine Core Elements. In Oceana Memory Care, we infuse art and music into our environments, and regularly use them as therapeutic tools to energize the senses, tap into faded memories, and invigorate the soul. 

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