Music in Medicine: Alzheimer’s

I came across the subject of treating Alzheimer’s with music and I wanted to share it with you.

sen_alzAccording to an article titled, “Using music to help Alzheimer’s patients” written by Herb Weisbaum, studies have shown that for people with dementia music may reduce agitation and improve behavior issues that are so common in the middle-stage of the disease.

“We all know that sometimes when you hear a song that you’ve heard 20 years ago, it puts you back in that time and place very well,” said Dr. Dean Hartley, director of science initiatives for the Alzheimer’s Association.

Dr. Hartley reminds us that short-term memory is the first go, so music from the past may provide a way to connect – even after someone has trouble communicating verbally.

“They’re still remembering some of these things 40 or 60 years ago, like it was yesterday, those are the members they can bring back and music is one of those,” he told me.

The Alzheimer’s Association suggests using music to create a mood – a tranquil piece can create a calm environment. A fast-paced song from their childhood can bring back happy memories. says, music can be powerful. Studies have shown music may reduce agitation and improve behavioral issues that are common in the middle-stages of the disease. Even in the late-stages of Alzheimer’s, a person may be able to tap a beat or sing lyrics to a song from childhood. Music provides a way to connect, even after verbal communication has become difficult.

Use these tips when selecting music for a person with dementia:

  • Identify music that’s familiar and enjoyable to the person. If possible, let the person choose the music.
  • Choose a source of music that isn’t interrupted by commercials, which can cause confusion.
  • Use music to create the mood you want. For example, a tranquil piece of music can help create a calm environment, while a faster paced song from someone’s childhood may boost spirit and evoke happy memories.
  • Encourage movement (clapping, dancing) to add to the enjoyment.

Avoid sensory overload; eliminate competing noises by shutting windows and doors and by turning off the television. Make sure the volume of the music is not too loud.

WebMD has this interesting information:

Music Therapy for Alzheimer’s Disease

Music therapy has many benefits for Alzheimer’s disease. It may help by:

Continue reading below…
  • Soothing an agitated person
  • Sparking memories
  • Engaging the mind even in the disease’s later stages
  • Improving eating in some cases

Here are some tips for using music therapy to help your loved one:

  1. Golden oldies spark memories. Songs from the person’s youth often spark the most memories. In the later stages of Alzheimer’s disease, you may have to go back to songs learned in childhood. Encourage sing-a-longs. Try using a karaoke machine.
  2. Toe-tapping beats stimulate activity. Up-tempo dance tunes can help stimulate both mental and physical activity in Alzheimer’s patients. Encourage dancing, if possible.
  3. Easy listening can be soothing. Soothing music can help ease the anxiety and frustration felt by many people with Alzheimer’s disease. For example, lullabies at bedtime can help your loved one get into bed and fall asleep.

A person with Alzheimer’s disease may not be able to verbally communicate their likes and dislikes. Rely on other clues such as facial expressions to help you learn which songs are a hit and which aren’t. Ask friends or relatives for suggestions about the types of music or particular songs the person used to enjoy.


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