The Benefits of Music Therapy for Those with Memory Loss

Music Therapy for Those with Memory Loss

For those living with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of memory loss, the progressive decline of their cognitive functioning eventually makes it difficult to communicate and interact with the world around them. In addition to decreasing skills and behavioral changes, the isolation that Alzheimer’s causes significantly affects one’s quality of life. Fortunately, research shows growing evidence for the cognitive, emotional and social benefits of music therapy for those with memory loss. 

Polly West, Executive Director at Bridgepointe at Ashgrove Woods in Nicholasville, KY, has witnessed first-hand the effects of music therapy on her Memory Care residents. “Music reaches some of our Memory Care residents in a way nothing else can,” shares West. “Listening to music or singing along engages them in social activity and lifts their spirits. At Bridgepointe at Ashgrove Woods, we use music therapy not just for this reason, but to help calm agitation, facilitate exercise and stimulate cognitive abilities and memory recall, as well.” 

Countless studies and expert opinions back the power of music therapy, but why does it work so well? How can it improve a loved one’s quality of life, and what can family caregivers do to utilize this effective, holistic treatment?

Music and the Mind: How It Helps Cognitive Functioning

The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA) explains that music has a profound effect on people with Alzheimer’s because “rhythmic and other well-rehearsed responses require little to no cognitive or mental processing. They are influenced by the motor center of the brain that responds directly to auditory rhythmic cues. A person’s ability to engage in music, particularly rhythm playing and singing, remains intact late into the disease process because, again, these activities do not mandate cognitive functioning for success.”

While listening and responding to music do not require much cognitive functioning, music still stimulates many parts of the brain. According to the Alzheimer’s Association’s article, “Music Therapy Enhancing Cognition,” music has the ability to engage several neural brain functions at once. Brain scanning research has found that listening to music engages much more than just auditory brain functions.

The article also explains that processing music’s rhythm and tone engages the brain’s limbic areas, which are responsible for emotion. Brain scanning also found that processing the pitch and volume of music activates the networks in the brain associated with creativity and mind-wandering. Other functions that listening to music promotes include paying attention, making predictions, organizing information, and releasing dopamine to send pleasure signals to the rest of the body.

Benefits of Music Therapy for Those with Alzheimer’s Disease

These findings translate into life-changing benefits for people living with Alzheimer’s disease. Listening to and participating in music pulls those affected out of isolation, gives them a way to express emotion and exercises their minds. Other key benefits include:

  • Memory Recall – Listening to familiar songs can allow loved ones to tap into memories associated with the song or that time in their life.
  • Positive Mood and Emotional State – Music has the ability to evoke emotions. Listening to or singing upbeat music naturally lifts spirits.
  • Sense of Control – Singing, dancing or clapping along to music can give someone with Alzheimer’s feelings of success and normalcy as they engage with others.
  • Manages Pain and Discomfort – Soothing music is a natural way to relieve pain and anxiety caused by stress or tension.
  • Promotes Movement and Vocal Fluency – Even in the later stages of Alzheimer’s, music can help facilitate basic movements and speech.
  • Social Interaction – Music brings people together and gives them something to share.

How to Use Music Therapy in Daily Care

“Music therapy works well in a group setting at Memory Care communities,” says West, “but at-home caregivers can help their loved ones benefit by incorporating music into their daily care routine.” Some simple ideas for using music therapy at home include:

  • Playing music to help with physical exercise.
  • Soothing agitation by playing “happy” music, or using a familiar song to help them “snap out” of a troublesome behavior.
  • Listening to music from happy times (commonly their early adult years) to encourage reminiscing.

“When selecting music to play,” West continues, “be very careful not to choose songs that might bring up painful memories. Stick to upbeat, calming or familiar tunes. It’s also important to avoid sensory overload, which can happen when background noises such as the TV or talking distract from the music. Play music from a CD or iPod to avoid interruptions from song to song and to control the music being played. When used appropriately, music therapy can be a wonderful tool for mood management, as well as a fun way to spend time together. 

“At Bridgepointe at Ashgrove Woods, our residents enjoy a variety of holistic treatments and therapies to help them live their best days. Music therapy is just one resource available for engagement, socializing and mental exercise. Everything we do in our Memory Care program focuses on mental, emotional and physical well-being specifically for those with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of memory loss. 

“Our community holds regular educational events for families caring for a loved one with memory loss. If you would like to learn more about Alzheimer’s and caring for the specific challenges it presents, visit our website for a schedule of our upcoming community events.” 

Live Life to the Fullest at Bridgepointe at Ashgrove Woods

Bridgepointe at Ashgrove Woods is a Christian Care Community offering assisted senior care, memory care and adult day services. Located in Brannon Crossing, one of central Kentucky’s most desirable areas, Bridgepointe was designed to help families grow closer as they grow older.

At Bridgepointe, residents enjoy the privacy and dignity of living in their own apartment as well as the peace of mind that comes from the support and assistance of a special team of caregivers. In short, we help our residents live life to its fullest.

Our community is designed to promote activity, interaction, socialization and enjoyment. We offer a variety of engaging activities daily, from yoga and tai chi to gardening and arts and crafts. At Bridgepointe, there’s never a dull moment and always something to do! 

Discover a rich and fulfilling lifestyle combined with personalized care and support delivered by a team of experienced professionals … all within a secure, elegantly appointed community.

We invite you to visit today and discover how Bridgepointe at Ashgrove Woods can change your life for the better

To learn more, contact us today!