Good Vibrations: Aiding Dementia with Music

Lyrics to a familiar song may be hard to remember – until the music is played. You sing at the top of your lungs, tap your feet, and let the good times roll.

Music has long been used in group therapy at nursing homes. Withdrawn residents become alert and social when listening to music and singing along to music from their childhoods. In Charlotte, North Carolina, Southminster retirement community has started a new Music & Memory program. Songs associated with major personal events can trigger memories in those with dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and other damaged brain chemistry.

The program uses personalized music on ipods to improve quality of life for those with fading memories. If the resident is able to, they can write a list of their favorite songs to have digitized for them. Others need the assistance of their families to compile a playlist in a wide array of music. People with memory problems are able to relate to something that they still enjoy. This improves focus and helps them regain a connection to others. Eyes light up and feet start tapping. This therapy also replaces or reduces the need for anxiety or depression medications.

This program is the subject of a documentary “Alive Inside”, explaining how music therapy helps ease the suffering of Alzheimer’s patients. The story is about Dan Cohen, a New York social worker who founded the Music & Memory program in 2010. His idea to provide personalized music to nursing home residents was a big hit with residents, staff, and families. He then brought 200 iPods to four New York long-term care facilities. A video clip of a resident reenergizing to his favorite Cab Calloway songs made the program become famous. Now hundreds of care facilities across the United States and Canada are using personalized music programs.

Garloch, Karen. “Music stirs memories for people with dementia.” Living. The Charlotte Observer, 11 Apr 2016. Web. 12 Apr 2016.

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