Music can soothe the soul, and for people with dementia, music really does help. But, choosing a specific kind of music for dementia and Alzheimer’s sufferers isn’t as hard as you think.
It really isn’t that hard at all. And mostly, it comes down to enjoyment.
Why Music for Dementia
We’ll talk about two types of music here: the music that someone listens to and the music that somebody performs.
Hundreds of studies show that people who create music on a musical instrument or sing use more of their brain and utilize many more neural connections than nearly any other activity. It’s even proven in elementary schools that students who are exposed to musical education and who take up a musical instrument have higher IQs and higher percentages of success after school than those who do not.
Many care facilities have installed pianos to help encourage the musically inclined to continue their craft. We find that creating music helps lower blood pressure, stimulates memory, increases happiness (reduces depression), and provides a sort of grounding experience that allows the person to understand where they are and what’s going on around them.
We have friends in community and professional bands and orchestras that know people well into their 80s and 90s continuing to play with the groups. Many members offer extra assistance to make sure these numbers continue to play as long as possible. While no study has collaborated this, it’s generally accepted within the community that once a person stops playing, their quality of life goes way down.
Of course, not everyone can continue to play their instrument or had the opportunity to learn one, to begin with. That doesn’t mean they need to be deprived of music.
The act of listening to music also stimulates certain parts of the brain that encourages memory and relaxation. To get the most benefit out of music, a person should sit and actively listen to the music, rather than just letting it occur in the background.
Actively listening to music gives the best benefits, but any music can help reduce anxiety.
Type of Music That Helps Dementia
Just like with the question of what babies should listen to, many people ask about the type of music for dementia and Alzheimer’s. The best answer is: the type of music they enjoy.
If someone does not like classical music, Mozart will not help them maintain neural connections or reduce anxiety. Many people find the music that was popular in the 60s and 70s to be enjoyable.
Jazz music is frequently used and often sought after by people with dementia. The complex rhythms and harmonies attract their attention and stimulate their senses.
We do not recommend hard-sounding music, lyrics with depressing melodies, or repetitive rhythms. These types can evoke memories that are depressing, frightening, or confusing. Repetitive rhythms, as commonly found in rap and metal genres, increase anxiety and violent tendencies.
Overall, your first choice of music should be whatever your loved one most enjoys. Then, cycle in classical, jazz, early rock, and other types of music they find enjoyable.
How To Listen To Music With Those Suffering With Dementia
Active listening to music is one of the best ways to spend time with your loved ones and help stimulate their memory.
When listening to music, ask your loved one what they remember when they hear or play the song. Many times, there will be a story. It might have been a dance when they were school children, a performance they were part of, or just something they enjoyed listening to. Actively remembering these memories can help reduce the progression of the disease.
It’s okay if they want to listen to the same type of songs repetitively. This is a comfort factor, and a little bit of control in a life they know is fast spiraling away from them. It might be boring for you, but it is important to them.
If you find they listen to the same songs repetitively, request listening to one of your songs, something similar but new. Start a discussion with your loved one about the song and what they might or might not have liked about it.
These types of discussion can help you get a good understanding of how progressed the disease might be, with an active conversation being a good sign and frustration or dismissal a lesser sign.
Overall, music is one of the things that can help improve the quality of life for your loved ones who have Dementia or Alzheimer’s. It’s an active tool for those who know how to play an instrument and you should encourage them to continue to practice to improve their quality of life and enjoyment. Listening to music can bring you closer to your loved ones and help reduce their anxiety.