A growing amount of research is confirming the power of music. But we don’t need scientists to tell us why music matters. We all know. Music surrounds us, and somehow, music gets inside of us. We all know the feeling of hearing a song that takes us back, renewing memories. Songs of childhood. Songs of summer. Songs of love.
For a person who has Alzheimer’s, a favorite song can be the key to unlocking old memories. Music can help connect someone who has Alzheimer’s with their own joy-filled memories. I’ve seen it happen many times. Hearing the right song can bring a smile to a face, or sometimes a tender tear to an eye.
Music can connect a person to a specific time in their life. When a certain song unlocks a set of special memories, you may hear stories shared for the first time. I’ve seen “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” bring a man back to his own days playing baseball. I’ve seen “All Shook Up” take a woman back to a high school dance. And I’ve seen “Some Enchanted Evening” bring people back to a first love.
Music also connects us with each other. As we share a song, we share memories. And we create new memories. While we were caring for my mother-in-law, Trish, our family experienced the joy of singing together. Yes, we grieved as Alzheimer’s stole her memories and, eventually, her life. The loss and the pain is very real. But so are the moments of joy. Now, as our family continues to grieve, we also cherish each special moment of joy we shared with Trish. Many of those moments of joy involved music, so we know firsthand why music matters.
When I’m leading singalongs, of course I’m doing my best to connect with the audience. As we sing together, we also share smiles and winks and knowing looks. But I’m also connecting with my own memories, including memories of singing with Trish. So, when I sing “Keep on the Sunny Side” I remember standing next to her, watching her grandchildren perform at a bluegrass festival. When I sing “Blue Suede Shoes,” I remember hearing her talk about Elvis Presley and her high school days. And when I sing “Can’t Help Falling in Love With You,” I remember how Trish loved that song and how she would reach out and “take my hand” as I sang those words of the chorus.
Music Brings Joy
Music is part of life. We’re each immersed in music in a personal way.
Dr. Jennifer Bute had to retire from her career as a general practitioner in the United Kingdom when she was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s Disease. She then started working to help people understand more about dementia and how to live with it. Please watch this video to hear some of the reasons Dr. Bute believes music is an essential part of dementia care.
“Throughout our lives,” Dr. Bute says, “we use music to calm, to reassure, to engergize, and to bring joy.” For someone living with Alzheimer’s, music continues to provide those benefits, even when few other things can.
More Reasons Why Music Matters
- Music is a non-medical way to help manage symptoms of dementia.
- Music reduces anxiety and depression.
- Music is inherently social, so it helps reduce social isolation.
- Music improves mood and quality of life.
- Music promotes confidence and self-esteem.
- Music supports retention of speech and language skills.
For more about why music matters for people who have Alzheimer’s and other dementias, please see these helpful articles from Music for Dementia and Psychology Today.