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For Dementia Patients, Music Is Magical

Comfort Keepers In-Home Care in Reading, Pennsylvania.

By Wendy Kerschner on Reading Eagle [April 12, 2020]

Music has a magical power. It lifts spirits, recalls memories and often encourages people to sing and move along.

Far more amazing is that musical memories are often preserved by those with dementia because key areas of the brain linked to musical memory are relatively untouched by the disease.

The film, “Alive Inside,” as described on its website, is a “joyous cinematic exploration of music’s capacity to reawaken our souls.” Watch a clip of it on YouTube and you’ll quickly agree with this theory:

One of the featured dementia patients is a man who is mostly unresponsive until he is fitted with a headset, an iPod and music of his era, and then he truly comes alive. His eyes widen, he recalls the words to the song and he taps his hands. Even after the music is over, the magical qualities of recall from the music now permit him to carry on a conversation that he seemingly was incapable of having prior to his musical experience. It’s simply mind-blowing!

The facility where my grandmother lives recently had a special event with musical entertainment. Family members were invited to attend, so I went. When I arrived, I found my grandmother in her room, in bed nearly asleep, far from where the action was taking place. I roused her and said: “Mom, they’re having a party with music; let’s go!”

On the way there she was still a bit dazed from her earlier slumber, but a root beer float and a few songs later she was transformed. She had new energy. She sang along and tapped her feet. Mom Mom raised her eyebrows to the beat. The music completely changed her mood. It lifted her spirits and mine. It was a glorious moment that put life back in her! Music has this power.

According to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, music can “shift mood, manage stress-induced agitation, stimulate positive interactions, facilitate cognitive function and coordinate motor movements.” Music is medicine.

Consider how you can build your loved one’s musical library. Whether it is cassette tapes, CDs or digital music loaded onto an iPod or other device, choose music that they will enjoy. Religious hymns, big-band songs, show tunes, old-school country and western music: it doesn’t matter, whatever the musical genre, start a library of their favorites. Often yard sales, secondhand stores or local library sales have troves of musical CDs for sale at a very reasonable cost, or you can purchase songs online from iTunes. You can even borrow CDs from your local library at no cost.

If your loved one lives in a facility, be sure to ask for a schedule of activities. Make the time to visit when live musical entertainment is planned, and attend the event with the resident. The experience will be as powerful for you to witness as it is for your loved one to participate.

Everyone has the opportunity to bring their loved ones to life with music. Even if you don’t play an instrument, you can play a smartphone. Simply search for music that is familiar. Choose a favorite song or one that will elicit a memory, such as a song from their youth or their wedding. Some universal favorites are “You Are My Sunshine” and “Amazing Grace.” Play them and prepare to be amazed!

“Where words fail, music speaks.”

― Hans Christian Andersen