Simply put, music is powerful. Music can influence our mood and behavior. The soft rhythms of acoustic music or a classical symphony can be calming while show tunes or music with a fast beat can energize us. Music can also spark memories. Maybe it’s the song you danced to at your wedding, or the song your son sang during a recital, or the Broadway hit that reminds you of your favorite play… music can evoke wonderful memories from years ago.

This transformative power of music has profound implications for older adults, especially people living with dementia. Music can be more than a mere source of entertainment; it can be a therapeutic tool, a bridge to their past, and a way to connect with their family caregivers, and friends.

Music, the aging brain, and dementia

Numerous studies have shown that music can have a remarkable impact on the brain. Engaging with familiar tunes can stimulate brain activity. In older adults, particularly those with dementia, music can help reduce agitation, improve mood, mental alertness, and memory, and enhance cognitive function. Even when other forms of communication start to falter, musical memories tend to be preserved. This is because music processing involves multiple areas of the brain, and these areas may remain relatively intact even as dementia progresses.

Alzheimer’s disease and dementia often rob people of cognitive functions. However, they cannot entirely erase the connection between music and memory that has been forged over a lifetime. The ability to recall melodies from the past remains astonishingly untouched, even amid cognitive decline.

For many people, specific songs are closely tied to significant life events, relationships, and cherished memories. These musical memories can serve as a link for adults living with Alzheimer’s and dementia allowing them to reconnect with their past and experience moments of clarity and joy.

A bridge for communication

Lesley Garrett, a soprano singer, once said, “Music is the most profound, magical form of communication there is.”

One of the most challenging aspects of dementia for family caregivers is the change in communication with their loved ones. As the disease progresses, people with dementia may find it difficult to express their thoughts, emotions, and needs verbally. However, music offers an alternate channel of communication. Singing along to a song or simply listening together can lead to moments of clarity and connection that are increasingly rare but profoundly meaningful.

You can harness the power of music in many ways, including:

  • Personalized playlists: Create a playlist of songs that were popular during your loved one’s younger days or tunes that they loved. Observing their reactions can provide insights into which songs resonate the most.
  • Musical activities: Engaging in activities like singing, dancing, or even playing musical instruments can be both fun and therapeutic. It’s a wonderful way to bond and can help in maintaining or even improving motor skills.
  • Daily routines: Use music as a part of daily routines. Playing calming music during the evening can help in inducing sleep, while upbeat tunes in the morning can set a positive tone for the day.
  • Musical performances: If feasible, attending live musical events or shows can be an enriching experience. The atmosphere, combined with the power of live music, can be invigorating.

“Every person’s connection to music is unique. While some may find comfort in classical symphonies, others might resonate with jazz or folk tunes. Experiment and observe what musical style appeals to your loved one,” said Cheryl Conley, MA, Director of Social Services.

Music is an important component of the activities at our Adult Day Center. “We’ve witnessed the ways music can be comforting and also provide incredible joy to our participants,” said Allison Kodeih, assistant activities director.

The power of music is immeasurable, especially for older adults with dementia. It offers a haven of memories, emotions, and connections in the challenging world of cognitive decline. For family caregivers, understanding and embracing this power can pave the way for a deeper, more meaningful relationship with their loved ones, creating moments of shared joy, nostalgia, and peace amidst the challenges of dementia.

To learn more about our adult day program, visit our Adult Day Center webpage or call 419-720-4940.