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There Is No Magic Music For Alzheimer’s Disease – Part Three

This is the third of a three-part series. Click to read part one and part two.

Music is one of those things that can really make a difference for people living with Alzheimer’s Disease and related dementias. As a music therapist, I spend a lot of time in music with folks who have dementia, helping them to connect with their peers, with their loved ones, and with cherished memories; and providing a context for them to make music with others.

What I especially love, though, is when I can help caregivers discover those songs and experiences that really work for the person or people they care for. I say “discover” because I can’t really prescribe one song or one experience that will work like magic for everyone. No one can.

There is no magic music.

If the bad news of our recent series is that there is no magic music, the good news is that we really can use music within our caregiving relationships to make a significant difference in the lives of those we care for.

If there is “magic,” it is what happens in the relationships a person has with the music itself and with the caregivers engaging in music with them.

In fact, if you already have a good relationship with your care recipient, you probably already know some ways to bring music into your interactions. (Read more in part one.)

You can then take that a step further by thinking more about your caree’s relationship with the music itself. (Read more in part two.)

Then, you can become even more intentional about how you relate to each other in the music. (Read on!)

How you relate in the music matters.

What you do during the music, or how you experience the music together, definitely affects how well the music “works” for your loved one.

This makes intuitive sense. Think about it: imagine your favorite, most relaxing music. Imagine listening to those beautiful sounds while cuddled up in bed, with the lights dim and the rest of the house perfectly quiet.

Now imagine listening to that music in rush hour traffic, when you’re trying to negotiate five lanes of freeway traffic while running ten minutes late to yet another doctor’s appointment.

In which setting do you feel more relaxed?

I think you get my point. We can’t just turn on some music and expect the magic to happen.

Here are a few elements to consider for how you relate in the music:

Verbal interaction before, during, and after the music

Think about why you are introducing the music to the person you are caring for. Are you simply turning it on for background noise? Or do you want to encourage conversation and reminiscence? Are you trying to help your loved one transition to an activity, a meal, or bedtime? Or are you just trying to find some mental space for yourself to relax? Considering your purpose or desired outcome will help you to decide which music to play and how to talk about it.

Pairing other activities with music

Doing music together can be even more rewarding when you pair music with another activity. Here are some ideas:

  • Exercise – dust off those lists from the physical therapist, or use the exercises you know from aerobics classes
  • Expressive movement – stretch and dance, letting the music be your guide
  • Art-making – break out the paint, markers, or colored pencils and see what happens
  • Art-viewing – look at photographs and let the music and art work together to start a conversation
  • Personal care – pair music with those ADL tasks you have to tackle (showering, washing hair, dressing), then finish with lotion and a hand massage
  • Instrument playing – give each person a tambourine or drum, and add your own beat to the recorded music

Structuring the listening environment

Even if you just want to turn on some music for passive listening, you still need to consider the listening environment. First, consider the ambient noise level. As in the example above, if the environment is noisy, busy, or otherwise stressful, then no music will work for relaxation. Are there competing radios or TVs? Lots of people talking? Sounds of vacuums and floor polishers?

Also consider how playback is happening. Is your care recipient listening through headphones? Or is the music playing loud enough for an entire room of people to hear?

Taking a few moments to consider the listening environment will make your music experience together more enjoyable and more effective.

Even if there is no magical CD you can buy to get those cherished musical moments for your care recipients, music can make a HUGE difference, especially with a little extra thought and planning.

What things have you done together in music with your care recipient? What has worked best for you? Please leave your comments below!

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