Benefits of Musical Therapy for Senior Living and Memory Care Residents

Music made for people with Alzheimer’s or dementia has been categorized as “music therapy.” It has been shown to carry numerous measurable effects and benefits. For instance; in one study listening to 20 minutes of music made people happier, increased their eye contact, decreased their fatigue, and made them more talkative. This is why here at Oakleigh of Macomb, we have an Impressions Memory Care Program, which includes music therapy for senior living residents with Alzheimer’s and dementia. With Impressions we offer two different styles of apartments where residents can relax and become involved in our monthly event calendar full of engaging musical activities.

Music Therapy in the Early Stages of Dementia

In the early stages of Dementia, singing and playing music is still very possible. The joy of music can be very motivating and give feelings of fulfillment. During this time, you should start creating a list of your favorite songs while you can. That way, you can play them later during happy times. Doing this will help to create a strong association between your favorite music and happy feelings. This will be even more important in the later stages of dementia when you will find that listening to your favorite songs is very comforting. 

Music Therapy in the Middle Stages of Dementia

During this time, playing music can become too difficult, but listening to music is still very beneficial. Music can help distract you if you become too frustrated with certain physical tasks. For example, music can help with physical exercises such as walking, by helping you pick up your pace and go farther.

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Music Therapy in the Late Stages of Dementia

This is when the list that you made in the earlier stages will be most useful. Your favorite songs can help reduce stress, restlessness, and irritation in senior living environments. In the latest stages of dementia, music has been shown to help perk one right up. They will become more relaxed, responsive, maintain more eye contact, feel less fatigued, and become more talkative.

Music Therapy in Memory Care

Music therapy in memory care and senior living facilities isn’t a new phenomenon. Exercise is a central part of our health and wellness programs, and listening to music can help motivate you to exercise since it helps energize the body. In our community center music can help stimulate your brain which otherwise can remain uncommunicative. 

Anecdotally, nurses have said that singing to residents during bathing or feeding helped to calm and encourage them. Also, residents who are normally nonverbal will perk up and show interest when hearing music that they enjoy. 

What is the Science Behind Music Therapy?

When listening to your favorite piece of music, a pleasant signal called the Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response will be triggered. When scientists used MRIs to see where the signal came from, they found something incredible; the signal came from the areas of the brain that were NOT affected by dementia or Alzheimer’s. What this means is that music can activate the areas of the brain that are still functioning in these patients, and this activation results in pleasurable feelings.

Listening to music triggers the right side of the brain, which boosts thinking ability. Singing music triggers the left side of the brain, which also boosts thinking — basic functions such as swallowing become easier as well. 

Creating a Playlist

Familiarity is important here. You should always keep a list of your favorite songs in case you should ever be unfortunate enough to be stricken with dementia. The power of familiar music is that it can evoke positive and happy memories. 

If you’re a family member of someone with dementia, then think about what music is most familiar to your loved one. For example, are they religious? If so, then songs of worship might be their favorite ones. Of course, tastest vary so you’ll have to do some investigating. However, if you play the wrong type of music (the kind that you don’t like), this can have the opposite of the intended effect. 

Music Therapy for Different Purposes

Another layer to consider when it comes to your favorite songs is the type of song it is. Keep your “upbeat songs” and your “calm and soothing” songs in separate categories. Soothing songs will help you more during routine and simple activities such as eating and chores. Upbeat songs, on the other hand, will help you more with energetic activities like exercising and walking. If you’re feeling up to it, you can even dance along with the music! 

Avoid Commercials and Ads

During listening sessions, it’s important to avoid commercials as these can be distracting and provoke confusion. Keep this in mind when using radio or streaming services like YouTube and Spotify. For YouTube, you can use AdBlock or YouTube Premium to remove ads. YouTube Premium is the preferable option because it will ensure that the content creators you love will get paid for their work. For Spotify, Spotify Premium is the only option for removing ads and it requires a monthly subscription.

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Music Therapy Equipment Options

For someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s, simplicity in all things is key. This is why there are music players designed especially for people with dementia. For instance, some of these music players have a heavy handle that must be lifted up to turn the music on and down to turn the music off. Some speakers allow upfront configuration of volume and songs (that can be done by someone else) which can be activated by the push of a large button. 

If you’re a family member who is setting up your loved one’s music, be sure to adjust volume levels to their level of hearing, no softer and no louder than that. Too soft and it can frustrate them, too loud and it can cause a sharp and adverse reaction. However, if your loved one is in the early and middle stages of dementia, they can probably adjust the volume themselves with the help of a large remote controller.

Streaming Services for Musical Therapy 

Due to a surplus of advertisements, radio is probably not the best option for musical memory care. Streaming services and preprogrammed songs can work much better. We mentioned Spotify already, but Pandora is another one that’s quite popular in the United Staes. Pandora will play songs that are already similar to their favorite songs, which is an ideal music setup for somebody with dementia. On YouTube, you can create your own playlists, and the same goes for Spotify. Just remember to get rid of those ads.

Oakleigh Macomb’s senior living and memory care programs are personable and attentive. We believe that every detail counts, and music therapy is just one of the stepping stones to a new “you.”