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The powerful impact of music on memory care

Posted by Dr. Shirley Newell

A musician playing for the community.

As you search for the best community for your loved one who requires senior living or Alzheimer’s care, be sure to seek out memory care.┬áMemory care involves many techniques that can keep your loved one happier and healthier. Even when our cognitive faculties begin to go, we retain the ability to feel joy – and we often can get that experience from music. Music can help people living with dementia access memories, emotions and connections that are difficult for them to grasp otherwise.

“Music can help people living with dementia access memories.”

Any senior living community with memory care that you are looking at┬áshould be able to tell you just how it uses music in the lives of its residents. There are many ways to do so, from the formal to the very casual. Don’t be afraid to ask how music is integrated into activities that help people who need memory care access their memories, emotions and connections.

It’s a common experience to hear a song from a certain time in your life and remember how you thought and felt back then. In memory care, music can serve this function for seniors. It can also help soothe them, direct their energy productively and even get them to communicate in a way that transcends words. Music in memory care can lead to moments of deep caring and bonding between residents and caregivers.

Music in everyday life in memory care

There are many ways to integrate music into the lives of residents of senior living communities. There is a lot to be said for creating a comforting environment by playing songs from years past that resonate with the older generations, for example. This is not necessarily a type of therapy, but rather an effort staff can make to help residents feel comfortable.

Listening to music with your loved one is a valuable bonding experience.Listening to music with your loved one is a valuable bonding experience.

Other times, music takes a background role include when a resident is agitated, when it may be very helpful to play soothing classical music to help him or her relax. This is a strategy that can combat acting out at night, which is also referred to as┬á“sundowning.” Caregivers have also found that upbeat music can help people with dementia focus on completing a task that may be uncomfortable, like bathing, more quickly and happily.

Special uses of music

There are other more specific uses of music in memory care as well. Some communities will create specific playlists for their residents, full of songs that are meaningful to them, to facilitate sharing memories and feelings. Sometimes, people who rarely communicate verbally will be moved to sing along with a favorite song from their childhood – often a folk or religious tune. This is a precious opportunity for caregivers and loved ones to connect with people living with dementia, especially as the condition progresses and connection feels further and further away. Music with a beat can also prompt movement, whether that is tapping one’s fingers or feet or full-on dancing. Collaborating with your loved one in this movement is another way to feel close┬áand can be a healing exercise for both of you.

Ensure your loved one in need of memory care has the opportunity to feel the very real benefits of music – from unlocking memories to encouraging a dance – by selecting a senior living community with a robust selection of activities.