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Assisted Living Locators April 2022 Blog

Why Music is an Important Part of Dementia Therapy

Memory Care uses many different types of therapies to help slow cognitive decline in its residents, such as art, word games, and even pets to stimulate brain activity and create a comfortable, soothing environment.

Another effective therapy for progressive cognitive diseases is music therapy. Music is a potent tool for affecting cognitive response and triggering associative memory. It happens to most of us when we hear an old song and are instantly transported to a time decades earlier, hearing the music in the family car or a store shopping with our parents.

In a recent study, researchers discovered that playing the right song can reconnect late-stage Alzheimer’s disease and dementia patients with the “real” world.

The Alzheimer’s Society also recognizes and promotes music therapy through their successful Music Project, which provides MP3 players loaded with personalized music to people living with dementia. The program leverages music’s potential to assist memory, fuel physical and social activity, improve sleep, elevate mood, and enhance the person’s overall well-being.

Why is music such a powerful tool in dementia therapy?

Music therapy is uniquely powerful because of the way our brains store memory. Research has shown the part of the brain that retains music memory is relatively unaffected by the onset of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

Whether as part of therapy or listening for pleasure, music provides Memory Care residents with emotional and behavioral support, helping them have a great day, every day.

How Memory Care communities use music as therapy
Music therapy has been shown to be very effective in helping people with communicative difficulties, including Alzheimer’s disease and dementia patients, who often can’t express basic needs and desires. This can lead to feelings of isolation, frustration, and depression.

Here are a few ways that music helps Memory care residents:

  • Hearing a song from one’s past can restore long-forgotten memories and help restore identity
  • Singing along with a favorite song helps enable dialogue, support communicative structure, and exercises impaired cognitive skills
  • Music is also used as a redirection tool to set moods, reduce restlessness, and focus one’s attention.

What are the benefits of music therapy to people with dementia?

Memory Care staff use music to create a connection between the residents and the outside world. The benefits of music therapy are numerous, including:

  • Positive changes in mood
  • Improved memory
  • Better mental acuity through recalling song lyrics and singing along
  • More consistent emotional states
  • Reliable form of engagement when other strategies don’t work
  • Promotes rhythmic, continuous movement (dancing, hand-clapping, etc.) which supports physical rehabilitation
  • Assist with socialization through group singing and dancing
  • A sense of renewed control over their life
  • Music therapy is used to increase the levels of physical, mental, and emotional functioning in older adults, elevating the quality of life of people with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

Get involved with your loved one’s music therapy

One of the best aspects of Memory Care is that families are encouraged to be involved with their loved one’s care plan. When it comes to music therapy, you can help develop a music therapy strategy by creating a playlist that Memory Care staff can use.

You can create your playlist by sourcing out music from your loved one’s young adulthood, generally between the ages of 18 and 25. You can also include favorite songs that will evoke recollections of happy times. Ask friends and family for their suggestions in case they’re aware of a song that’s not on your list.

Memory Care staff will use your list to set a particular mood by matching the right songs with a specific activity. For example, upbeat music might be used for activities that require alertness, such as bathing or dressing. Slower songs might be used to create quieter moments in the pre-bedtime hours. Staff may also take note of which songs your loved one enjoys more than others and play those most often.

Memory Care staff encourage families to visit their loved ones as often as possible. While you’re there, you can participate in music therapy by singing and clapping along. Even if they can’t fully express it, trust that your loved one treasures every second of your time together and appreciates your collaboration with Memory Care staff to help them thrive during their vintage years.

To learn more about Memory Care facilities in your area, please contact your local Assisted Living Locators care advisor!

Smartphones Can Improve Memory in Older Adults with Dementia

Despite stereotypes about seniors and technology, a small study suggests that older adults in the early stages of dementia can use smartphone apps as memory aids.

The researchers found that older people with mild impairments in memory and thinking were not only able to learn how to use the apps, but they also said the digital aids made their daily lives easier.

The apps were not specially designed. The study tested the effects of two basic smartphone features: a reminder app that gives notifications of a scheduled event and a digital recorder app (such as the voice memo app on iPhones).

For the 52 older adults in the study, both types of apps turned out to be user-friendly and helped with remembering daily tasks. By the end of the four-week trial, participants were given higher ratings for their quality of life.

The study — published Nov. 17 in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society — involved older adults who had been diagnosed with either early-stage dementia or mild cognitive impairment. The latter refers to difficulties with memory or other mental skills that may progress to dementia.

Participants were randomly assigned to use either the reminder app or the digital voice recorder app that was standard for their phone. Those using the recorder app were encouraged to record “intentions,” such as, “When it is 7 p.m., then I will call my brother.”

Twice a week, participants were asked to call a research phone number on a specific day and take photos at a specific location.

On average, both app groups accomplished about half of those assignments. That compares with a 20% rate in past studies where people with mild impairment were assigned similar memory tasks.

And most participants — two-thirds — reported an improvement in their daily memory performance.

As dementia progresses, however, things change. But as technology advances, being able to utilize these types of apps to help your loved ones is a great tool. For more information on ways to help combat dementia, you can reach out to your Assisted Living Locators care advisor!


Families sometimes struggle with behaviors in seniors that make it difficult for them to live in any group situation – and even live with family. Sometimes difficult behavior connects to one form of dementia or another. With others, though, seniors experience psychiatric problems that are separate from the degenerative brain condition producing dementia. Extreme anxiety and depression are two examples of these psychiatric problems that may or may not be associated with dementia. Not only should families investigate a full neurological workup, but a physical one as well. For example, some bladder infections can cause behavioral issues that appear to be dementia-related. A full workup by a neurologist can sometimes help tease out the distinctions between the psych and the dementia, and sometimes one or another of the problems can be at least modestly helped by medication. Don’t assume that everything is related to dementia, old age, or some psychiatric condition. Let an experienced Assisted Living Locators care advisor sort it out!


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