Musical memory remains largely preserved in people with Alzheimer’s disease, so music may be a positive therapy to help improve memory, social connection, and mood.
Playing music may encourage a person with Alzheimer’s disease to move, dance, clap, or respond physically to the rhythms they are hearing. Music may also trigger positive memories and emotional reactions.
Music therapy involves a trained music therapist working to support someone with Alzheimer’s disease through music. It may involve singing, playing an instrument, listening to music, or clapping and dancing to music.
This article explores how music may benefit people with Alzheimer’s disease. It will discuss its potential disadvantages and how individuals can use music to best support someone with this condition.
Below are some potential benefits music provides for people with Alzheimer’s disease.
Music may positively affect social interactions for a person with Alzheimer’s disease and those around them. If verbal communication becomes difficult for someone with the condition, music can allow people to connect in another way.
Caregivers or loved ones can share the experience of listening to and enjoying music together. In the later stages of Alzheimer’s disease, people may still be able to sing a song from their childhood or respond to a beat.
According to a
Memory issues are a key feature of Alzheimer’s disease and
People with the condition may have an emotional reaction to music and be able to learn new songs. Music therapy may help affected individuals recall more information or events from their own lives and help improve cognition.
Effects on the brain
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- stimulating the formation of new nerve cells in the brain and neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to change structurally, such as forming new connections between nerve cells
- stimulating the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that has associations with cognitive decline and is typically lower in people with Alzheimer’s disease
- generating emotional responses, which may reduce stress and positively affect the immune system, which may lessen nerve cell function loss
The Alzheimer’s Association recommends choosing music that a person with Alzheimer’s disease responds positively to. This may be music that is familiar to them. If possible, a person can let them choose the music.
It is best to choose music that does not have commercials or interruptions, as this may cause confusion.
Music from a person’s childhood may be a suitable choice as long as it evokes positive emotions or memories. Upbeat music may improve mood, while soothing, tranquil music may promote relaxation and calm.
However, some music may trigger unpleasant memories, so it is important to observe whether music evokes a positive or negative reaction and stop playing it if the person becomes upset.
Loud music may also feel overwhelming or distressing for someone with Alzheimer’s disease. Similarly, competing sounds, such as outside noise or a television, could be distracting and cause sensory overload.
Caregivers or loved ones may want to use music to support and connect with someone with Alzheimer’s disease.
People can create a playlist of songs to listen to together, letting the other person choose the music if they can.
Individuals can choose songs that will be meaningful to a person with Alzheimer’s disease and are likely to evoke positive memories, such as familiar or childhood songs.
Caregivers can observe the person’s response to the music, including nonverbal signs, to make sure they are enjoying it.
People can also encourage movement, such as tapping, dancing, or singing along to the music.
It may help to limit surrounding noise, such as by turning off other devices and shutting windows. People can also ensure the volume is at a comfortable level to avoid causing distress or overstimulation.
People may enlist the help of a music therapist to help someone with Alzheimer’s disease.
A music therapist
- listening to music through a personalized playlist to achieve a positive emotional response
- clapping or tapping out a rhythm
Other ways of supporting a person with Alzheimer’s disease may include:
- using other creative therapies, such as art therapy, which allow self-expression and a sense of achievement
- encouraging a person to stay active
- planning enjoyable activities to do together
- allowing a person to keep as much personal choice and control as possible
- creating a routine that feels consistent and familiar for them
- listening to any concerns they may have and offering reassurance
- communicating each step as a person is helping someone with a task such as getting dressed or bathing
- respecting personal space
Alzheimer’s and dementia resources
To discover more evidence-based information and resources for Alzheimer’s and dementia, visit our dedicated hub.
Listening to music, dancing, clapping, or singing may benefit people with Alzheimer’s disease.
Finding familiar songs that evoke positive memories may be a positive experience as musical memory may remain for people with this condition. Music therapy may also help improve mood, cognition, and a sense of connection for those with Alzheimer’s disease.
However, people need to keep music at an appropriate volume and avoid songs that invoke distress or feelings of overstimulation.