Using Music to Enhance Quality of Life When Your Parent Has Dementia

Music is an important part of life for most people. From the time you are born, through childhood and adolescence, your adult years, and old age, music is along for the ride. Your mother sang lullabies to soothe you as an infant. You remember the band that played at your high school prom. You carefully selected the first song to dance to as a married couple. Music is the soundtrack of our lives.

If you have been around people with dementia, you may have noticed that their love of music continues long after other memories have faded. They may have lost some abilities and may not be able to communicate as well, but their ability to enjoy music remains. Turn on a CD of their favorite singer and you can watch them come alive. They may tap their toes, clap their hands and sing along. The positive effects of music linger long after the music has stopped playing. It has been well established that music has the power to connect and bring happiness in astonishing ways.

Why does music work so well? The answer lies within the brain. Memories associated with music are stored in a different part of your brain than other memories and language skills. The part of the brain that is responsible for music is not affected by dementia to the same degree as the part that controls speech, language and comprehension.

Music is a gift you can use to enhance quality of life for many people. Research indicates that music can reduce depression, and ease anxiety and agitation. It can lift spirits, and make you feel happy. It can motivate you to dance and get some exercise. Perhaps, most importantly, it can connect people, reduce isolation, provide enjoyment, enhance relationships, and awaken memories.

If you have a parent living with dementia, you may be wondering how you can add more music into the day. It is not enough to have the radio on in the background from morning to night!

Here are some ideas for how you can incorporate more music into daily activities:

  • Plan short music sessions throughout the day. Make it an activity that you do together.
  • Invite, don’t ask your loved one to participate. It is easy for a person with dementia to say no to anything that changes the status quo.
  • Sometimes it is difficult for a person with dementia to initiate a new activity so gently encourage them. Use a phrase like “It’s time to sing!” or “Let’s enjoy some music!”.
  • Begin with a song you know they love. It’s okay to sing the same song more than once if they really enjoy it.
  • Sing songs when grandchildren visit. “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and “If You’re Happy and You Know It” are great choices.
  • Dance to the music as a way for both of you to get some exercise! Hold hands and sway back and forth. Your loved one may tire after a song or two so remember that low intensity and moderation is key.
  • If the person wants to talk instead of singing or listening to the music, let them talk! Use music as a tool to start conversation. It may be the stimulant that they need to tell stories and reminisce.

A little music can go a long way! Everyone can sing, and it is one of the best ways to relieve boredom which affects many people with dementia. Music can also help break the cycle of stress for caregivers and gives everyone an opportunity to remember happy times!

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