Music Therapy For Dementia: Awakening Memories

Many of us have either heard or seen the incredible effects that music can have on people with dementia.Music Therapy For Dementia: Awakening Memories

Learn more about the Music & Memory Program, a non-profit organization bringing personalized music to seniors to “vastly improve [their] quality of life.” Thus far, the program has provided iPods to over 140 residences in North America.

The Music & Memory Program

The world was introduced to the Music & Memory organization through a YouTube video that went viral upon its release. The video featured a senior, Henry, who had suffered from dementia for a decade and was very withdrawn, unable to communicate… until Music & Memory gave him an iPod loaded with music from his era.

Suddenly, the man who barely spoke comes to life, reminiscing about how much he had loved dancing and listening to music in his younger years. It’s an incredibly compelling video.

The clip is part of a documentary on the Music & Memory Program, which not only provides seniors with iPods and gives them access to music, but also educates family caregivers and senior care professionals on how to create powerful personalized playlists to help people with Alzheimer’s and dementia reconnect with memories triggered by music.

Dr. Laura Mosqueda, Director of Geriatrics at the University of California, Irvine School of Medicine, explains that because music affects so many parts of the brain, it touches areas that may not be damaged by the disease and brings those pathways to the forefront. The result is the astounding “awakening” that often occurs.

Seeing Is Believing

Testimonials really tell Music & Memory’s story best. A caregiver from Valley Stream, New York, said:

“Patients with anxiety and depression are less agitated and appear calmer. The music transports them to a happier place in their minds.”

Another reported how “one gentleman who had a diagnosis of failure to thrive actually gained weight and began taking an interest in the world after he started using the device.”

Overall, senior care homes report that residents are more engaged and much happier with the use of music therapy. They note that staff members are able to create more meaningful relationships with patients, spending less time dealing with behavioral issues. Perhaps most encouraging, some residences are actually seeing a reduction in the need for psychotropic drugs, which carry with them a set of problems all their own.

Ways You Can Help

Tony Lewis, President and CEO of Cobble Hill Health Care in Brooklyn, may have said it best:

“Despite the enormous sums of money spent on behavior altering medications that are often not particularly effective, nothing compares to these iPods when it comes to improving quality of life.”

If you’re interested in locating a certified Music & Memory care home or residence in your area, visit the website’s Care Facility Partners page.

You can support this important work by donating a gently used iPod or similar device to the organization. Learn more about the simple process on the Music & Memory homepage.

We’d love to hear more about your experience using music therapy for dementia. Share your stories with us in the comments below.

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Please leave your thoughts and comments

  • lesa

    My Dad recently diagnosed goes to a day class.Some days a volunteer band will come and play the good old 40’s..the smile is priceless from not just my Dad but all the men. I encourage everyone to let your loved one listen to some music. You may be surprised and enjoy it too.

  • Barbara Verley

    For almost a year, I have been working with an assisted living center which has both life guidance and Alzheimer’s patients. I made binders with lyrics to almost 50 songs – about half are Patriotic while the other half are mostly from the ’40s. I play songs from YouTube through my laptop with an external speaker. IT IS AMAZING how the Alzheimer’s patients do not even look at the lyrics – because THEY REMEMBER THE WORDS!!! They begin to sit taller; their feet begin tapping; their hands are patting their laps, and they are engaged in the 45 minutes to an hour we are together! As they are entering and leaving, I play instrumental music by Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Artie Shaw et al, and you should see them “dancing” as they come in the room! I ALWAYS gain more inspiration from them than they could ever gain from me. Tremendous, tremendous folks! =)

  • Nancy Fowler

    My sweet mother Doris also had Alzheimer’s – for many years,
    and passed away one year ago. Thankfully the nursing home she was in realized
    the value of music, especially the “oldie goldies” so they had Friday
    afternoon “Happy Hours”, plus other musicians came in on a regular
    basis for their enjoyment. Mom immediately got up and started singing and
    dancing every time! It brought such joy to all! She and my dad (who
    is deceased) used to dance a lot in their younger years. She knew the
    words to EVERY song, whether it was big band or church hymns. I like the
    idea of the headphones, but my siblings and I were so convinced about the
    almost magical benefits of music that we tried VERY hard to get the facility to
    have this music “piped in” on every hall, dining area, rehab area, and activity
    rooms (which they never did). Of course, not so loud to bother anyone – but just loud enough for more people to be benefited more of the time. I think it would be great to do a
    study about THIS – not just on an individual basis with headphones! Thanks for bringing this very important topic up in this forum. Appropriate music has
    more power than we realize and is not just “good for the soul,” but it is
    actually healing!

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