Using Music to Help Alzheimer’s Sufferers

March 22, 2013

Can music help Alzheimer’s sufferers? There haven’t been exhaustive studies about the use of music in treating people with Alzheimer’s, but the little research that has been done shows promising results. There are indications that music may not only help to improve cognitive functioning but may also reduce anxiety and sudden violent actions. As an added bonus, music can also help caregivers feel less stress.

Here are a few tips on how to use music to help your loved one with dementia:


  • Find music that evokes happy times. What kind of music does your loved one like the most? Are there any specific songs or styles of music that have a special meaning to him or her? For example, was there a special concert that was important in Dad’s life? Did Mom listen to one album a lot when she was pregnant with you? If memories of their wedding are happy ones, what song did your parents dance to? Playing music that has happy associations can help trigger positive memories and feelings. Be aware too that music can also be associated with bad memories, so take this into consideration when choosing songs to play.
  • Get in the right mood. Some kinds of music are better than others in certain situations. If you want to use music as a soothing force to get your loved one ready for bed or to calm him or her down, keep don’t choose loud songs with strong beats. If it’s time to encourage an Alzheimer’s sufferer to pick up the pace so that you aren’t late for that doctor’s appointment, something a little livelier may be appropriate.
  • Bring in the kids. Encouraging inter-generational contact can sometimes be a challenge; take advantage of the fact that your son can easily find music to download or that your daughter likes to make CD covers, and get him or her involved in creating – and listening to – “memory music” CDs or playlists with a grandparent.
  • Observe what happens. Even when you know someone very well, you may not always pick music that he or she responds to well. You can tell which songs are “winners,” and should be played more often, and which don’t really strike the right chord, and should be played less often, if you pay close attention to your loved one’s reactions. If anything causes agitation, don’t be afraid to leave it and move on to another song.
  • Go pro. You might want to discuss with your doctor whether your loved one should see a professional music therapist, especially if he or she seems to respond very positively when you listen to music together.


American Music Therapy Association

Alzheimer’s Foundation of America: Music Therapy



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Writer, Craig Butler

Craig Butler has been writing on a wide range of topics for more than fifteen years. As the National Communications Director for the Cooley's Anemia Foundation, Craig regularly writes on a range of health and medical topics. Among the many projects he has written for the Foundation is the Cooley's Anemia Storybook, a collection of original short stories for children with the blood disorder Cooley's Anemia. His freelance work has ranged from reviewing moves and CDs to creating entertainment-related stories about baldness, to creating text for comic strips. Craig looks forward to having a dialogue with you about senior care and issues of concern.

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