You’re driving home at the end of a long day, thinking about nothing in particular. The radio is on, but it’s little more than background noise — until that song comes on. You know the one. It brings you back to your high school dance, the first time you locked eyes with someone special across a crowded room, or the one tune that’d calm your little one when she was feeling cranky. And chances are, it’s not just one song. It’s a collection that opens up a veritable jukebox of memories. That connection between memory and music can be especially important in a memory care setting, and for families and caregivers of Alzheimer’s and dementia patients.
Why is Music a Powerful Memory Tool?
While both Alzheimer’s and dementia can take a severe toll on memory and cognitive function, it’s worth noting that not all regions of the brain are affected equally; the areas that “store” musical memory are typically undamaged (or less damaged) by Alzheimer’s and dementia. In an interview with NPR, Northwestern University neuroscientist Nina Kraus notes that the parts of the brain that process sound and those that store our memories are tightly intertwined, leading to a powerful connection between music and memory.
Benefits of Music in Memory Care
So how can we use this knowledge for our loved ones’ benefit? Listening to music — or, if your loved one is a musician, playing it — has a number of benefits, especially in conjunction with skilled therapy and memory care.
- Reducing stress
- Calming agitation
- Alleviating anxiety and depression
- Encouraging movement
- Providing a gateway to memory
Depending on a person’s mood, sometimes it’s enough just to sit quietly and listen. But don’t stop there; this isn’t like sitting a toddler in front of the TV so you get some quiet time to enjoy your coffee or get the dishes done. Some music can unlock memories of other times, or even just encourage some dancing or a singalong. Don’t miss these opportunities. Go with the flow, and turn it into an interactive experience.
Curating Music for Your Loved Ones
Even though there are organizations that will certify caregivers for the use of music in a memory care setting, the “tools” are simple and available for anyone to use. A digital music player like an iPod and speakers or over-ear headphones through which to play the music are all you need to get started if you’ll just be listening to music or singing along. If your friend or loved one is a musician, giving them access to their instrument can be a revelation to both of you; just remember that if they’re in a senior living community, you’ll want to talk to the staff about ways to give them an outlet without disturbing the other residents.
To put together a playlist, think back to the kind of music your loved one likes. This will mean going back over your own memories with them, and knowing times and places that were meaningful to them. Different genres, from favorite hymns to the sounds of a popular big band, will evoke different emotions and memories. This can also be an opportunity for you to connect with other family members and friends, who are likely to have plenty of stories of their own to tell you about their connections with the person you love and the memories they both may have shared with music.
Print the lyrics ahead of time — you may find yourself wanting to sing along. And perhaps most importantly, pay attention while the music plays. Just like you, they’ll have happier memories around some song than others, so if they seem sad or agitated, you’ll want to choose another song. NewAldaya Lifescapes combines creative modalities of care, activities, and genuine compassion in a homelike senior care setting. For more information about our services, we encourage you to get in touch.