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Using Music to Enhance the Quality of Life of People with Alzheimer's

Alissa Sauer
By Alissa SauerDecember 12, 2016

It is no secret that music has transformative powers. It not only has the ability to change moods and lift spirits, but one song can transport the listener to another place and time. As several YouTube videos have shown, the same is true for listeners with Alzheimer’s disease.

Learn more about the effects of music on people with Alzheimer’s and how one organization is dedicated to improving the quality of life for people with the disease through digital music programs.

The Effects of Music on People with Alzheimer’s or Dementia

Music has the power to transport us to a place and time in our lives that we have long forgotten. As many caregivers have seen, the same can be true of someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia.

A research team from the Boston University Alzheimer’s Disease Center, led by Andrew Budson, associate director for research at the center, believes there are two theories to explain the effects of music on people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

First, he believes that because music has emotional content it can trigger emotional memories, which he says are “some of the more powerful memories that we have.” Another reason music can be so transformative to people with Alzheimer’s, is that when we learn music, we store the knowledge as procedural memory. Procedural memory is associated with routines and repetitive activities. As dementia progresses, episodic memory is destroyed but procedural memory is largely left intact. 

While more research needs to be done to determine the exact relationship between music and memory, lead author of the study, Nicholas Simmons-Stern said he does know that:

“Every patient… could benefit from having more music in their lives.”

Using Music to Enhance Quality of Life of People with Alzheimer’s

One non-profit organization agrees with Simmons-Stern, and has made it their mission to bring music to people with dementia.

Music & Memory strives to bring “personalized music into the lives of the elderly… through digital music technology, vastly improving quality of life.”

The company trains senior care professionals as well as family caregivers on creating personalized playlists using iPods and other MP3 systems to help people living with dementia reconnect with the world through music. Training includes three 90-minute webinars, plus one year of coaching support which includes monthly conference calls and one-to-one consultations. The training explains to staff why the program works, in addition to the therapeutic benefits of personalized music, then provides training on how to create a successful program. The nonprofit also provides assessment tools as well as best practices to measuring outcomes.

The personalized music program that Music & Memory creates is improving the lives of people with dementia throughout the U.S. and Canada at hundreds of senior care centers. Dr. Concetta Tomaino, Executive Director of the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function says:

“You can see the value of this program as being not just a casual activity, but almost a necessity for daily care, because of the promise and potential that it has for enhancing quality of life.”

Other caregivers have said they have seen the positive effects of the program on helping calm people with dementia, enabling them to sit through meals, and some residents say their lives have been changed through these music programs. If you are you looking to help bring music to people with Alzheimer’s, you can do so by donating your used iPod to the cause.

 Have you seen music enhance the quality of life for a loved one with Alzheimer’s? Share your story with us in the comments below.

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Alissa Sauer

Alissa Sauer

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