Senior Living Advice: Music is therapy for loved ones with Alzheimer’s

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By Beth Dow, Solutions By Beth

I remember when I was around 12 or 13, for Christmas I got a record player with speakers! For an early teen, the independence of having your own record player was the equivalent of being 16 and getting your driver’s license.

Having my own record player meant that I could play the music I wanted to hear, when I wanted to hear it. It meant that I could sing along to my songs and learn every word. Words that I still remember today. I can’t keep up with appointments without a 
calendar but give me the first few beats of a song by Chicago, Three Dog Night or Queen, and I can pull out every single word. These memories are tucked neatly in my long-term memory data bank.

The same can be true for the person with dementia or Alzheimer’s. While the ravages of the disease take away so much and the thoughts of today are gone, the music of their past can be remembered. And with the 
music, memories long forgotten are once again present. In addition to bringing back memories, music has been proven to decrease anxiety and stress as well as promote the release of endorphins that give a feeling of well-being.

If you have a loved one with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, this Christmas instead of the gown or poinsettia give them the gift of your time and their music. Pull a song up on your cell phone from their era and watch the change that will come over them.

My mother, who also has 
Alzheimer’s, has not been able to communicate for the last three years. She rarely makes eye contact. She often has a “resting” scowl on her face that reflects the torture occurring on the inside.

But turn on Elvis and her face softens. She no longer looks tortured. You can sometimes hear something that sounds like a hum coming from her mouth. And her mouth – while it may not be a full smile – it is close.

There is something good, special and pleasant happening in her mind. And for the three minutes of that song, I have given her – and in-turn I have received – the best gift.

For many of us, the joy that Christmas brings is shadowed with sadness, the sadness that comes when our loved one can no longer communicate with us and experience the joy of the season.

But you can connect with them. Through music. Find a song and sit with them. Hold their hand. Tap the beat of the music in their palm. Connect through their memory of music and I promise, you will both find comfort and joy in this Christmas season.

Merry Christmas to All.

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Beth Dow is a Dementia and Alzheimer’s Educator, CAEd, Geriatric Case Manager and Certified Senior Advisor. She speaks at and hosts many workshops throughout the year covering various topics of senior living and caregiving. If you would like information regarding Beth speaking at your next event or training, email: [email protected].

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