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Music is important to people. It seems simple to state that, but it is hard to over-stress how accustomed to music most of us are. New parents-to-be often play music to soothe their unborn child and give it a head start on the world. Whether it is your mom’s lullaby, or the learning rhymes (think of the ABC song!) or the computer game or TV soundtrack our childhoods’ are filled with sound and rhythm. It continues on-many of us can still sing our high school “alma mater” or fight song from college. Music is always around, and provides the soundtrack of our life.

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If you have visited a memory care facility, you have seen that music continues to play a role. Patients who may not be able to hold a conversation can still enjoy and hum along or tap their foot to the tunes they remember. Music can also soothe someone who is having a rough day by calming them or even just distracting them from their distress. Frequent activities make use of music, especially “oldies” in order to connect with the patients. The good effects can last long after the tune has stopped playing.

The reason music works so well is that the brain is wired to store it in different areas from those associated with speech and language skills. If those areas have a decline due to dementia, it may leave musical memories mostly uninterrupted. Knowing this opens up a whole new method to approach those suffering dementia.

If you have a parent living with dementia, you may be wondering how you can add more melodies into the day. We need to look beyond just turning on the radio all day. Here are some other ideas for how you could incorporate music into daily activities:

  • Plan short musical sessions throughout the day. Make it an activity that you can do together.
  •  Instead of asking your loved one to participate, invite them! It is easy for a person with dementia to say no to anything that seems different.
  •  Sometimes it is hard for a person with dementia to initiate a new activity. So gently encourage them when starting. Use a phrase like “Let’s sing now” or “It’s time for some music!”
  • Begin with a song you know they love. It’s okay to sing the same song more than once if they really enjoy it.
  • Sing songs when grandchildren visit. Upbeat favorites like “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and “If You’re Happy and You Know it Clap your Hands” are good choices.
  • Dance to the rhythm as a way for both of you to get some easy exercise. Hold hands and sway back and forth. Your loved one may tire after a song or two, so remember that moderation is the key.
  • If the person wants to talk instead of singing or listening to the music, let them talk! One of the many benefits of music is to help reawaken other memories. This may stimulate the brain and result in a “better” day. You can always go back to the songs later on!

Music is very accessible. Everyone can sing or hum. It is one of the best ways to relieve boredom which affects many people with dementia. Music can also help break the cycle of stress for caregivers and gives everyone an opportunity to remember happy times!