the field of Neurologic Music Therapy, exciting
new evidence is emerging as studies of music’s effects
on the brain become more credible. While music in
itself cannot cure Alzheimer’s Disease and the many
forms of Dementia, it is certain that the use of music
can greatly enhance the lives of our loved ones and
increase their quality of life for an extended period of
time. One does not have to be a Music Therapist, or
even a trained musician, in order to implement some of
the basic strategies that have been found to be
effective while caring for someone with a cognitive
Whereas speech, physical movement, etc., utilize just
one small area of the brain, music activates all of the
neuropathways throughout both the brain’s right and left
hemispheres. Music is the only medium that provides a
direct link to all of our senses and to our executive
functions: cognition, speech and communication,
emotions, motor control, eyesight, hearing, taste,
smell, and touch. Music is “full brain,” and music is
“sensory.” These are key factors in helping our loved
ones to communicate as fully as possible for as long as
possible. The more sensory input they receive, the
greater their opportunity to respond verbally in order
to tell us what they need, thereby increasing their
quality of life.
Here are some specific ideas on how and when to utilize
music with a loved one in daily living:
Speech and Communication: Singing.
It is important that the songs be familiar
and of the preferred musical genre of the person with
memory loss. Whether she/he likes country music,
classical, patriotic, or hymns, etc., use songs of
his/her favorite artist. Popular music from the decade
of their twenties will most often elicit a response.
Depending on their level
cognition, singing a song (audio
input) while holding their hand (tactile input) and
making close eye contact (visual input) may produce a
response. (Repetition might be necessary because of
delayed cognitive processing). However, if your loved
one is able
to sing, then the perfect time to ask if anything is
needed is immediately after the song, ie: “Are you
Are you cold/warm? Does anything hurt?” - All helpful questions to
obtain information that if communicated, can add to
their level of comfort. You may in turn find that your
loved one’s verbal ability increases for an extended
period of time after singing.
Reality Orientation: Use recordings
of their favorite music to orientate your loved one to
time of day, transporting, and activities of daily
living. Structure is very helpful as cognition
declines. Recordings of morning and breakfast
songs to start each day; songs about food when eating;
songs about water when bathing; songs about
walking/marching/dancing to exercise or to move from one
place to another; and finally, songs about evening and
bedtime for relaxation and comfort.
Memory Recall: Utilize old pictures
with associated songs to begin conversations
(Visual/audio input). Reminiscence contributes to life
satisfaction and intimacy.
Improved Mood / Emotional Expression:
Music can be used to redirect difficult behaviors and to
allow for feelings to be addressed.
Relaxation/Pain Management: Instrumental
recordings of soft and slow, rhythmic songs to focus on
can be helpful to decrease agitation, anxiety, stress
In addition to providing mental stimulation, all of the
above serve as a means to combat social isolation and
withdrawal as well as provide opportunities for
spiritual support, if desired.
It is our hope that the information provided here about
the use of music in memory care can be of some
assistance to those in both private and professional
caregiving roles. Please feel free to contact Karen
Blomgren, MT-BC, NMT at Mary T. Hospice for more
information, as well as for specific questions
concerning your loved one. Call Karen at 763-760-3519.
Mary T. Inc.
Karen Blombgren, MT-BC, NMT