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Music as Medicine: How Music Can Help During Critical Times Issue #3 of 10

A COVID-19 resource for caregivers

Issue #3 of 10

The James L. West Center for Dementia Care is launching a Tool Kit for lay and professional caregivers who are providing support to persons with dementia during this critical time. To receive ongoing information, contact caregiver@jameslwest.org.

What is Music Therapy?
As defined by the American Music Therapy Association, “Music Therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.” In short, a music therapist is a certified therapist who utilizes music as a tool to address physical, emotional, cognitive, social and spiritual needs.
Due to music’s universal and diverse nature, music therapy is extremely versatile and used in a variety of settings, including dementia care. When used as a treatment for dementia patients, it has been shown to provide opportunities for:

  • Reminiscence and memory recall
  • Improvements in mood and emotional states
  • Awareness of self and environment, which accompanies increased attention to music
  • Anxiety and stress reduction for dementia patients and caregivers
  • Drug-free management of pain and discomfort
  • Stimulation that provokes interest even when no other approach is effective
  • Emotional intimacy when spouses and families share music-related experiences
  • Social interaction with caregivers and families

How You Can Use the Benefits of Music with Your Loved One
Through the powerful practice of music therapy, you can strategically and meaningfully incorporate music to improve your loved one’s mental, physical, spiritual and emotional health.

  • Help your loved one look through old records, tapes or CDs and choose something they would like to listen to.
  • No old records lying around? Utilize your smart phone or internet to stream favorite music.
  • Music spurs reminiscence: Ask the older adult what songs have meaning to them? For example, find the song that he/she danced to at his/her wedding and talk about memories from that day. You could then pull out the wedding photos and help the older adult recall even more memories. If the older adult was a musician, simply looking through sheet music and talking about past performances may spur meaningful conversations.
  • Religious songs and hymns may be comforting for older adults. Don’t be afraid to sing along with your loved one, or just sit together, holding his/her hand.
  • Turn on some music, and dance with the person who has dementia. Dancing is a great way to get some physical activity together, and it is fun!
  • You don’t have to be a trained musician to make music. Persons with dementia may surprise you and still remember how to play simple songs on the piano.
  • Soft background music with a slow tempo may help the person with dementia who is dealing with insomnia to get to sleep easier.

Make sure to tailor the music to the person. The person with dementia may find today’s popular music irritating but may enjoy country music from their early adult years. If the older adult isn’t able to tell you what they like, you can start with music that was popular when they were in their 20s-40s, understanding that as dementia progresses, songs they knew from childhood (nursery rhymes, church songs, Christmas carols) may be what is still familiar and comforting.

To learn more on how to engage your loved one with music click here.

The West Center presents this information with the support of the following organizations:

Dementia Friendly Fort Worth – Alzheimer’s Association – Tarrant Area Churches Together – Area Agency on Aging/United Way

Looking for more coronavirus and dementia caregiving-related readings? Check out our dementia care blog, featuring articles like Finding Activities for Loved One During Critical Times, and sign up for our e-newsletter to receive additional resources and COVID-19 updates.