Recently, music has grown in popularity as a method of non-pharmacological treatment for persons with dementia. This is something that we have implemented in all of our programs because participants don’t just respond; they look forward to practice! Participants “belong to the choir,” and we practice our songs every day, leading up a performance at the end of the week. The practice is essential because participants are needed and have a purpose.
We recommend using YouTube because you can find familiar songs with lyrics on the screen and great music. Each of the EngAGE EnCOURAGE™ Lesson Plans includes a playlist of songs that support the weekly topic. Participants can sing along, tap their foot, shake bells, or beat a drum.
So why does music have such an impact on persons with dementia? There is evidence to suggest that music memory can remain intact for persons even while experiencing rapid cognitive decline.
Researchers believe it is because music uses a broad network in the brain rather than a single “music area.” When listening to familiar music, participants can recall the tune, or the beat or the lyrics and that familiarity is comforting to them. They don’t have to remember everything about the song but to hear a participant identify “In the Mood” by Glenn Miller and then state that he and his wife used to dance to that song is heartwarming. Music can be used as a cue to evoke involuntary autobiographical memories that are specific and invoke an emotional response.
A study in 2018 provided evidence that music can also improve a person’s emotional state, lower stress levels and even improve sleep. Nothing makes us feel better than to have participants leave the program humming a tune!
So fire up the computer, search for age-appropriate songs and form a choir! And practice, practice, practice, and then perform.