Did you know that musical memory is independent of the many other memory systems in our brains? As a result, individuals living with memory loss can greatly benefit from musical therapy. In fact, music can even slow down the onset of cognitive decline that comes with Alzheimer’s. It can also be harnessed as a useful tool for communicating with your loved one when words fail.

How Music Can Help Memory

Have you ever heard a song come up on the radio and was instantly transported to a different place and time? We have all experienced the amazing ability of music to transcend time and bring to surface memories we never knew existed in the backs of our minds.

In individuals with dementia, playing music that has personal meaning to them can help to calm them down and ground them to present reality. Music can also help to improve mood and encourage increased interaction, engagement, and conservation with dementia patients. As musical memory is the one aspect of memory that is powered by separate anatomical networks within the brain, it remains intact in individuals with Alzheimer’s and can be a form of release for them.

Music As an All-Natural Remedy

The majority of individuals with dementia suffer from some form of agitation or depression, which can be hard on both patients, caregivers, and their loved ones. This is often treated with some kind of medication such as antidepressants. However, like with any prescription medication, undesirable side effects can occur. With musical therapy, we do not have to worry about unwarranted side effects and weighing the costs and benefits. In fact, receiving musical therapy has been associated with a lower need for antipsychotic medication.

Calming Your Loved One Down with Music

If your loved one is prone to agitation caused by dementia, try the following approaches with music to calm them down:

  • Play music that your loved one has enjoyed listening to over the past 20 years. This can help to improve cognitive ability in patients who are in the early stages of Alzheimer’s or who have mild cognitive impairment. You can try asking friends and family about the songs that your loved one likes if you are unsure.
  • Do you know any songs that your loved one associates with pleasant memories? Maybe this song was playing on their wedding day or during a vacation they took. If so, playing this music can help to invoke past memories, calming your loved one and allowing him or her to feel more connected with the people around.
  • Get involved with your loved one – simply listening to music together can be a great bonding moment and help you feel closer to them. Who knows, they may even open up about some memories that come to mind. You can also make the session fun by introducing activities such as a group singalong or moving along to the music.
  • Choose a day of time where your loved one is most receptive to introduce music to the environment. Ensure that other sensory stimulants are kept to a minimum within the space.