Many of us encounter music every day but it might not be obvious how much impact music has on our personalities, our memories or our physical health. Here are a few ways that music can benefit people with dementia.
Music Improves Emotional Well-Being
The joy that comes from hearing a pleasant melody can seem almost automatic, as can the memories of special times that come flooding back when a certain song comes in over the radio. It is a well-established fact that musical aptitude and appreciation are some of the most enduring cognitive abilities of people with dementia—long after coordinated movement or speech have declined, music can trigger surprisingly lucid moments filled with emotion and memory.
Creating moments of joy with music can provide positive benefits for caregivers, as well. As a result of reduced incidents of disruptive behaviors, caregivers may experience less stress and more opportunities for genuine connection with patients.
Music Supports Physical Health
It’s easy to tap your toes to a catchy beat. For many people with dementia, a good song is a great excuse to get moving. The opportunities for creative movement and activities that incorporate music are nearly endless and easily adaptable to suit the abilities of participants. For people in the early stages of dementia, ballroom dancing or easy aerobics can reinforce the connections between movement and rhythm, strengthening the communication between the two hemispheres of the brain. In later stages of dementia, physical movement can become significantly impaired; incorporating music into activities like chair yoga or ball-toss can yield many of the same cognitive and physical benefits as slightly more rigorous physical activities.
Music Brings People Together
People with Alzheimer’s and dementia are at a higher risk of mental health issues such as depression or anxiety due to the stigma that they experience as a result of their diagnosis. Many people with dementia will withdraw from family or friends, which can lead to negative health outcomes and accelerate the progression of the disease. Activities that bring people together and maintain community are essential and made more enjoyable with the addition of music.
Sing-alongs and other musical activities tend to work best with familiar and generationally appropriate music. It can be surprising to learn how many songs stick with people over the course of a lifetime, and how many memories are associated with the music. Even simple listening sessions can be a great way to connect with your loved one, and to help them feel connected to you.