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The Benefits of Music for Individuals with Dementia

Music has so many benefits for people of all ages and abilities. It makes us smile, sing along, and sometimes, cry. It is undeniable that music triggers emotional and often, physical responses in us in ways few other modalities do.

Think of how music affects you. Do you find yourself tapping your toes or swaying to your favorite tunes? Do upbeat songs from your youth bring a smile to your face? Do those sad songs bring a tear or feeling of melancholy (which can be cathartic)?

In addition to these healthy responses, music is used in retirement communities and long-term care settings in other ways. Of course, there’s the fun of musical entertainment and singalongs, with everyone joining in on treasured show tunes or songs from yesteryear. Entertainment aspects aside, music has also been found to be highly beneficial for older adults with dementia.

Music & Memory at Lester
MUSIC & MEMORY® is actually a non-profit organization that brings personalized music into the lives of the elderly or infirm through digital music technology, which has been shown to vastly improve quality of life. The Music & Memory program at the Lester Senior Housing Community follows the model set out by the organization: to create and provide personalized playlists using iPods/MP3 Players and related digital audio systems; this enables those struggling with dementia and other cognitive and physical challenges to reconnect with the world through music-triggered memories.

This highly personalized form of music therapy has been of great benefit to residents in our Memory Care Suite, who have been enjoying some of their favorite music on mp3 players. The curated playlists bring smiles, promote socialization and reconnection, and spark a sense of joy in residents; they also offer opportunities for conversation about the songs, which provides additional recreational enjoyment and therapeutic benefit. It has been demonstrated that many people with Alzheimer’s disease—even those in advanced stages—can remember and sing songs long after they’ve forgotten names and faces.

Music can help maintain some cognitive functioning and tap into deep memories not lost to dementia. A documentary called Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory, was created in 2012 and shows a number of people with dementia who were reawakened and even became quite animated by listening to music genres and artists they preferred, illustrating the direct benefits.

Music therapy
As noted in a prior post, music therapy is also a delightful way for those with memory issues to have fun and gain the benefits of memory enhancement among other positive outcomes. Music therapy is also a great way for nonverbal individuals to express themselves. We schedule frequent music therapy sessions at Lester with certified music therapist Coleen Shanagher; these sessions are enjoyed by assisted living and independent living residents as well as those in our Memory Care Suite.

According to musictherapy.org, this clinical, evidence-based practice provides opportunities for:

  • Memory recall, sensory and cognitive stimulation
  • Positive mood changes
  • Great sense of awareness of self and environment which increases attention
  • Stress/anxiety reduction
  • Management of pain and physical discomfort
  • Social interaction and emotional intimacy with caregivers and family members

Our monthly drum circle program (“Rhythm and You”) is also popular with residents. These therapeutic drumming sessions promote a feeling of calm and enhance our residents’ focus. In addition, playing rhythms may help control chronic pain and lower blood pressure.

If you’d like to donate an iPod or similar device that you no longer use, and help bring the gift of music to a senior with dementia or other memory-related issues, please contact Marlene Glass at (973) 929-2700.