As a board-certified music therapist, I have been working with people who have dementia, including Alzheimer’s type, for almost 10 years. Appropriate music can bring back memories and facilitate interaction. Here are some tips for using music with your loved ones who have memory loss:
1. Even if you think you “can’t carry a tune in a bucket”, let’s sing. Your voice is meaningful to your loved ones, so that’s all matters. But if you feel very uncomfortable singing alone, sing along with your loved one’s favorite CDs etc.
2. Use music that is from your loved one’s teenage years/young adulthood. People are emotionally charged during these times, so the music from these eras has lots of meanings to people. If your loved one has progressed memory loss, she/he may respond to the music from their childhood.
3. Repeat & repeat. I found that people with memory loss respond well to repetitive songs, such as “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree”. Repetition helps the people join in the singing. Even if they cannot join in the first line, they can usually join during the 2nd and 3rd lines. If a song is not repetitive, you can repeat the 1st verse a few times rather than going to the 2nd and 3rd verses etc.
4. Slow down. Some people cannot sing at a fast tempo. I often need to slow down my singing, so that my clients can participate. That’s one of the reasons that live music is better than pre-recorded music. Live music is definitely flexible!
5. Usually people make brief comments after singing or listening to familiar songs (e.g., “That’s pretty.” & “My mother used to sing that song.”). If your loved one does so, ask him/her simple questions that are related to his/her comments. I had a client who did not remember anything about her family, so she thought that she was alone. She was very sad and lonely. But after singing a few familiar songs, she began talking about her family. This instantly changed her mood and affect. Reminiscing is a lot easier after using appropriate music.
Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions!
Reference: Clair, A. A. (1996). Therapeutic uses of music with older adults. Health Professions Press.