Music therapy working for patients with Alzheimer’s

Published 10:32am Friday, August 16, 2013

Dear Savvy Senior,

What can you tell me about music therapy for Alzheimer’s patients? I’m helping my dad take care of my 80-year-old mother who has mid-stage Alzheimer’s disease and thought it might be something worth trying. How do we proceed?

- Unmusical Mary

Dear Mary,

Music has amazing power, especially for people with Alzheimer’s disease. Studies have shown that listening to familiar music can significantly improve mood and alertness, reduce agitation and can help with a number of behavioral issues 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.

Sitting and listening to music together can also provide a way for you and your dad to connect and bond with your mom, even after she stops recognizing your names and faces. Here are a few tips to help you create a music therapy program for your mom.

Create a playlist

Your first step is to identify the music that’s familiar and enjoyable to your mom. Does she like jazz, classical or Frank Sinatra? What songs make her want to get up and dance? Then go back to the era when she was a teenager through their early 20s. Research shows that music during this time period seems to get the best response and triggers the most memories.

If you need some help creating a playlist, the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function provides a suggested list of top songs by era and genre on its website at musictherapy.imnf.org – click on “Outpatient Services,” then on “Top 10’s For Memory.”

The website pandora.com will also tailor a radio station to match your mom’s musical taste when you select an artist, song or genre. And musicandmemory.org offers a free guide to creating a personalized playlist.

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