MUSIC IS A MIRACLE FOR ALZHEIMER'S PATIENTS (AND THEIR CAREGIVERS)
In my experience as a singer working specifically with residents in memory care, I have repeatedly seen an almost miraculous "awakening" that occurs when carefully chosen music is sung live with the people who have memory deficits from Alzheimer's or other cognitive decline. It is still, after witnessing it time after time for the past 7+ years, so incredibly moving. I have seen people who are wheelchair-bound and basically unresponsive, lift their head up, open their eyes and begin singing with me. Often staff and family also react to this "awakening" as miraculous, when they see the person still inside and able to respond, sometimes even when they don't know their own name or recognize family anymore. It's a gift of connection that is so precious and amazing! This very powerful aspect of music triggers memories stored in a different part of the brain, usually the last affected. And when it can be activated, the positive effects last for a while, bringing joy to both the individual and their caregiver/family.
There are also some excellent programs (MusicandMemory.org) which use the same concept but with technology instead of a live singer. That also has merit and proven benefit to the listener, however, in seeing responses to both live and recorded music, the hands-down best is the live performance because of the vital human connection and interaction with the singer. And, of course, a singer can custom design programs for specific groups or individuals and be responsive to changing them upon getting feedback as to which songs are best received. There is also the aspect of giving eye contact, a warm smile, a touch on the arm, and the energy of the song.
When you take into account that most people living in memory care have a full 95% of their time idle, aside from activities of daily living, having a musical "intervention" be it live or through technology can increase connection, quality of life and joy for those living with Alzheimer's Disease or other dementia.
For those caring for a loved one at home, music can provide a welcome stimulation and connection via watching favorite musicals on video or streamed, and through the use of a device which can create a custom playlist, such as iTunes or YouTube Music, Amazon Music, etc. The creation of a highly personalized list of favorite songs is essential. Finding just the ones that produce the greatest "happiness effect" and bring pleasant memories back is the goal. Also, if you can add stimulation for other senses, such as photos for visual memory stimulation, and objects for tactile interest -- jewelry, memento from a trip, any other object that has happy memories attached, the effect is multiplied.
I highly encourage caregivers, both family and professional, to explore the amazing possibilities and power of music and memory!
Karen is a compassionate, enthusiastic student of life, who cared for her mother for 17 years. She brings her insights, compassion, experience and desire to share knowledge and healing to this ongoing conversation with others on the caregiving path. If you are caring for a parent, spouse, friend or other loved one this site offers sanity-saving tips, open-hearted self-care ideas, and an open forum for discussion, connection and sharing resources for the journey.
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