For a senior loved one with Alzheimer’s disease, the effects of music can be extraordinary. Hearing favorite songs sparks profound physiological changes. Even in the later stages of Alzheimer’s, the capacity to play and enjoy music endures. Here’s what music can do for your loved one.
1. Prolongs Cognition
A song can evoke a past emotion, along with the event that created it. The auditory nerve communicates with the amygdala, the brain region that records both feelings and memories. Favorite songs are like keys, unlocking brain areas yet untouched by Alzheimer’s disease. Spontaneously, your loved one may recall past facts, places, and names. Familiar music can restore memories of how to do former tasks. Over time, regular music sessions can prolong cognitive and functional abilities. For this reason, music therapy is gaining popularity for geriatric care.
In 2013, at George Mason University in Virginia, a researcher followed 45 people with dementia who sang regularly. Songs were chosen from classic musicals, including Oklahoma, The Sound of Music, Pinocchio, and The Wizard of Oz. Over the course of four months, the subjects’ mental acuity rose significantly, measured by cognitive and drawing tests.
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2. Boosts Alertness
Music aids concentration by activating several brain regions simultaneously. In 2011, a study cited by NeuroImage described breakthrough findings by Finnish scientists. When a song is heard, multiple brain circuits get busy, processing rhythm, tone, and sound quality. These same neural networks, in both hemispheres, govern perception and creative thinking. Singing familiar tunes sharpens mental focus. For example, if your loved one exhibits morning confusion, sing a song to orient him or her to the surroundings.
3. Facilitates Communication
Even in someone who no longer talks, music can recover speech. This is the finding of music therapists reported in “The Healing Power of Music,” a 2015 article by AARP. For this reason, rehab therapists also use music to restore speech after a stroke. If your loved one is currently unresponsive, playing music may encourage him or her to socialize. Even if you can’t connect through conversation, by singing together you can share closeness.
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4. Promotes Calmness
Playing music is a relaxation technique often practiced by medical professionals. Mellow music lowers blood pressure, slows breathing rate, and relieves muscle tension. A British study reported in Dementia showed gentle music pacifies instantly, with the effect persisting for up to one hour. Music with a slow rhythm produces melatonin, a hormone that controls sleep. If sleeping is difficult for your loved one, play tranquil instrumental music at bedtime. At the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine, seniors with Alzheimer’s who received music therapy slept better. You can also sing a happy song to calm the sundowning restlessness triggered by fading light. If bathing your loved one is challenging, pair the activity with mellow music.
5. Elevates Mood
Music releases happy hormones, including serotonin, prolactin, and endorphins. Likewise, it summons brain chemicals that ward off depression. While music plays, you can enhance these benefits by urging your loved one to clap. Along with favorite tunes, play songs from past celebrations. The memories they awaken may bring happiness to the present moment. In a sedentary senior, upbeat songs may inspire dancing. If your loved one is indifferent to food, play his or her favorite music at mealtimes. At Joseph L Morse Geriatric Center in Florida, the medical staff found that music spurred seniors to drink water and eat better.
- Buy personal CD players and place them in the kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom. With the touch of a button, your loved one can hear music he or she enjoys.
- Play YouTube selections via computer, or keep the radio tuned to golden oldies.
- During visits by family and friends, hold singalongs. Encourage your loved one to clap and dance. Vary your themes, such as show tunes, classics, and hymns. If you celebrate Christmas, sing carols during the holiday season.
- Play “Name That Tune.” The first player to state the title of a particular song wins a round. Currently, YouTube offers a compilation of music called “Seniors Name That Tune.”
- If there are children in your family, perhaps your loved one can teach songs from his or her childhood.
Attend concerts and musicals together. If your loved one formerly played an instrument, encourage him or her to resume.
Caring for a senior with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of cognitive decline can be challenging. Families who need help caring for a senior loved one can turn to Home Care Assistance, a leading provider of Palm Desert, California, home care. Services available in our customizable care plans include meal prep, mental and social stimulation, assistance with personal hygiene tasks, and much more. If your elderly loved one needs assistance with daily activities while aging in the comfort of home, call us at (760) 345-0001 today.