Tools for engaging and stimulating those with dementia/Alzheimer's, including the use of music from their younger years.

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I did a search for a documentary I watched recently called "Alive Inside," but didn't find any specific mention of it on AC. The documentary shows how music can bring happiness to those who are experiencing severe memory loss and the inability to communicate that goes with it. About five years ago, I had first hand experience of playing music for, and dancing with, my 103 yo grandmother, and afterwards she would be at her most liveliest and most able to communicate. She would tell me stories about her childhood, ask relevant questions about things, and otherwise be happy and engaged for a few minutes. She was mentally stimulated by the music, though I didn't put that together at the time. I played music from her younger years, plus reminded her of popular tunes ("Happy Birthday," "Jingle Bells," etc.). She would be so delighted and happy and sing along where she could to songs I couldn't believe she remembered. I thought I'd start a discussion about the effect of music on those with memory loss because it's not a well-known treatment, and I think there is a place for it in any memory care treatment or facility. Also, if anyone wants to add other things that bring happiness to those with dementia - fidget mats or other things - I'd like to learn more about things that bring happiness and some quality of life to those who need it.


ABB, I think that including musical programs in a facility's schedule is fairly common. The better places include snoezelen rooms and dedicated art and music therapy, but even your run of the mill places try to find group activities to keep their residents engaged and happy. It can be difficult for any of us to find meaning in our lives, doubly so as we age.
I've tried this with my husband but he seems indifferent although I play what he has loved over the years. Is there a specific way to use music other than just playing it?
Ali, we learned with our first rehab stay how effective music can be in raising the spirits, counteracting blue moods, and overall attitude. From then on, it was one of the questions I raised when scouting for potential rehab centers.

I too used to play when I visited my mother or father, and saw the positive reactions of other residents. At one point, even some of the staff came in to listen. And I'm not even a great piano player!

After one of the episodes, I did some research and found that music therapy is in fact a type of discipline, or profession. I found a music therapy forum, with a fascinating variety of posts by people who were in this as a profession. I learned that music therapy is practiced not only in care facilities, but in prisons as well. (That's a place I would NEVER volunteer for though.)

Recently I watched, and now have signed up for newsletters, on pairing music therapy with movement or dance therapy.

A group titled Dance for PD (Parkinson's Disease) was featured on a PBS program. Professional dancers created the program; it's now being carried out in various cities in the US and elsewhere.

Yesterday and today I watched a PBS program titled Bare Feet, moderated by a dancer who travels and explores and learns ethnic dances in countries throughout the world. One episode addressed music and movement therapy for people in wheelchairs. It was quite interesting, and was an expansion of music and movement therapy for wheelchair users.

I can't recall which rehab facility it was, but there was a woman who a music therapist who would come on a specific request. She was a harpist, if I recall correctly.

In my research, I also learned that there's a volunteer group of singers in my area, not professionals but people who want to bring some happiness to those with medical issues. There also was a barbershop quartet that made the rounds of rehab facilities.

Jazzy, are you playing the music by CD or some other device, or are you the musician? Can you play sing along songs for him? In my experience, that typically will get the feet tapping and the voices singing along, especially the easy to sing old tunes. I also found that songs like "Take me out to the ball game" and the military hymns generated interest very quickly.

Ali, PBS has aired programs on art therapy. I don't recall their titles, but they clearly demonstrated how art therapy helped the patients.

I don't play an instrument but I guess I could learn!
Jazzy ~ are you able to search for the documentary that inspired this post and watch it? I watched "Alive Inside" on my Netflix service. It's $9 per month and that documentary is included in their extensive offerings. You might be able to get a free trial from them or find the documentary elsewhere online for a small one-time fee. (Amazon dot com also has a movie streaming service.)

In the documentary, I noticed a couple of things that the program facilitator did differently. He used small mp3 listening devices and headphones. I thought the headphones were a nice touch in this case. Also, the main person conducting the experimental program spoke to how music and memory connect in our brain in a different way than speech does. Documentaries are edited for more powerful content, and I get that, but watching the doc was very moving and made a strong point for using music as a way to connect those with memory issues to parts of themselves they can no longer access. (I don't know how else to put that.)

My thoughts when posting this were about what I had seen in the documentary, about how music was used as a tool to temporarily bypass severe memory loss. It reminded me of what had happened with my grandmother and I wanted to start a thread about it.

I like how they used the music in the documentary, with the mini mp3 players (you can get one for $10-$20) loaded with the favorite music of the person's life, and either play through a speaker or through headphones.

I think it would be a nice form of entertainment, a soothing distraction for those with memory issues.

I know that many assisted livings, et al, have music included in programs for their residents, but many family caregivers care for their charge at home, too.

So... just making mention of it on AC because I didn't see another thread about it. :-)

GA ~ In the documentary "Alive Inside," there was a music therapist who played for those with memory loss and mental illness. It was profound to watch the change that music brought to these people. The therapist was an African man, and the documentary showed him going back to places in Africa where all the women had been scarred by rape and war. It was very touching to watch him give healing to these women through music.

Thanks for sharing, GA. I didn't know about "music therapy" or "art therapy" before this documentary. I knew it was one of the 3 natural things commonly recommended for mood improvement -- music, exercise, and animals -- but I didn't know that it could connect us to parts of our brains that are different from the speech communication parts. That's very cool and something people who have dementias could benefit from.
Cwillie ~ I wasn't familiar with "snozelen room." :-) Thank you, cool stuff.
I have also read of people who have lost all ability to speak from stroke who can still sing. The brain is still a mysterious thing!
I look my Mom's sheet music up on youtube via my blu-ray player's apps so she can see it on the TV screen and she loves it. I like to hand her the music so she can follow along with the score, or you can find the same tune on youtube that has the words. She thinks she is with Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, Tom Jones, etc.
I look up songs on u tube that my Mom has sheet music of and she loves it. I use the smart tv/dvd player so she can see it clearly. I hand her the sheet music to watch the score or find one that has the words. It takes her back to ole Frank, Perry and Tom. It helps to put a smile on her face for a while anyway, that's what we are trying to do, just give a few moments of pleasure. If you don't have a smart tv, just move your dear one in front of the pc or put speakers on loud enough for them to hear. Think of how we love to see an infant smile, that same reaction is what I try to witness on my Mom's face, it gives me joy.

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