Music And Memory
For the estimated 5.7 million Americans currently living with Alzheimers, music can be a tether to the past and provide a sense of connection to the present.
“Music is like having a story line; it’s like a trail he can follow, “says a member of Giving Voice, a chorus created for people with dementia and their care partners. Her husband was diagnosed with Alzheimers several years ago, and they’ve been members of their local Giving Voice chorus since its inception. She claims to get at least as much out of their weekly practice sessions and annual performance as her husband does, and finds comfort in spending time with other caregivers. Today, 12 states in the U.S. have a least one Giving Voice Chorus, as do Australia, Canada, and Wales.
How Can Music Help?
Unlike the senses or sight or smell, music is often experienced with others – at parties, at play, and at life events like weddings – and often with significant others like a spouse, child, or close friend. Hearing a familiar song can involve happy memories from years gone by. According to doctors at the Mayo Clinic, “musical memories are often preserved in Alzheimer’s patients because the area of the brain associated with musical memory are relatively undamaged by the disease.”
Mayo doctors state that listening to music can provide stress relief, reduce anxiety and depression, and that the benefits extend to both patients to caregivers alike. Music can also provide a way for Alzheimers patients who have trouble communicating to connect with their caregiver. Listening to a familiar song may help bridge the gap and help stimulate conversation.
The Mayo Clinic offers the following suggestions for anyone who wants to use music to help a loved one with Alzheimer’s or any memory-related disorder:
- Consider your loved one’s musical preferences, and the type of music they enjoy. Ask friends and family members for song suggestions to create a personalized playlist.
- Use music to establish routines for meal times, and to calm or boost mood.
- Keep the focus on the music by eliminating distractions like television or other noises.
- Move with the music. Clapping hands and tapping feet offers the additional benefit of movement.
- Make it a sing along. Some research shows that singing can help stimulate unique memories.