Feb 242012
 

When Glen Campbell took the stage at the Grammy Awards and accepted his Lifetime Achievement Award, he did so as one of the more than 5 million Americans diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.  What is inspiring about the 75-year-old Campbell’s Grammy night appearance is that he has not retired from his love of making music despite his recent diagnosis.  In fact, he is starting his Farewell Tour and is cutting a new album.

Is music one of the keys to a longer, happier life – despite your health issues?

The news about Campbell got me thinking about studies and articles I have read about music therapy.  Although music has been with us since the dawn of time, in the last few decades studies have found that music as a therapeutic tool can increase cognitive function in Alzheimer’s patients, help premature infants gain weight, encourage autistic children to communicate, lead stroke patients to regain speech and mobility, control pain for dental, surgical and orthopedic patients, and manage anxiety and depression for psychiatric patients.

Dr. Oliver Sacks, a renowned neurologist and psychologist at Columbia University Medical Center best known for his 1973 book Awakenings, which became an Academy Award-nominated film starring Robin Williams and Robert De Niro, and who also wrote Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, testified at the Hearing before the Senate Special Committee on Aging entitled, “Forever Young: Music and Aging,” and issued this statement:

“The power of music is very remarkable… One sees Parkinsonian patients unable to walk, but able to dance perfectly well or patients almost unable to talk, who are able to sing perfectly well… I think that music therapy and music therapists are crucial and indispensable in institutions for elderly people and among neurologically disabled patients.”

The Magic Brain Workout Is Music

Since music is associated with one of the five senses — hearing — which is controlled by the brain it makes sense that we should exercise our brains with music listening to spur cognitive function in the same way we use physical therapy to exercise our limbs, muscles and joints to regain mobility and physical function.

When it comes to Alzheimer’s patients, studies have shown that music reduces agitation or improves behavioral issues such as violent outbursts.  In one pilot program, 45 patients with mid- to late-stage dementia had one hour of personalized music therapy, three times a week, for 10 months, and improved their scores on a cognitive-function test by 50 percent on average. One patient in the study recognized his wife for the first time in months.  Another music therapy study showed that stroke victims can learn to walk and use their hands again.

And, music therapy is not just used with older patients.  When it comes to those children diagnosed on the autism spectrum, music therapy allows these children to develop identification and appropriate expression of their emotions — music becomes the universal language.  Many people with diagnoses on the autism spectrum have innate musical talents so music therapy can give these kids a sense of accomplishment and success.

When I spoke to Holly Robinson Peete, the successful actress, talk show host and singer, about her son R.J. who was diagnosed at age 4 with autism, she said he loves music and he has even recorded a song.  In fact, Holly finds music a great way for her entire family to connect with R.J. and to enter his world.

She told me, “I think music makes him more comfortable — it is a way for R.J. to communicate without being judged.”

Music — Cure for Caregiver Complaints, Too

Music as therapy is not just for your loved one.  We know that caregivers encounter increased stress over caring for a loved one.  Since studies show that listening to music can lead to increased secretion levels of melatonin, a hormone associated with mood regulation, lower aggression, reduced depression and enhanced sleep.  Using music to cope with these common caregiver complaints can be a welcome relief to caregiver burn-out.

How to Use Music in Your Caregiving Plan

Although the 2008 documentary Young @ Heart, showcased a chorus of 80-year-olds singing Beatles, Rolling Stones and Sonic Youth cover songs, most experts agree that with an older loved one it is best to choose music that reminds them of an earlier, happier time in their lives.

  1. Discover the “happy times tunes”:  Talking to your loved one about happy times in their life and understanding the music associations with that time are essential.  Whether it is big band, gospel, rock ‘n’ roll, country, opera or blues, find out what made your loved one happiest.  Most older loved ones, especially Alzheimer’s patients who retain long-term memory as opposed to short-term memory, find tunes from their youth the most joyful but be careful.  Music can also evoke sad memories.  One Holocaust survivor in a pilot program reportedly became very upset upon hearing a Wagner opera which reminded him of that era of his life.
  2. Engage younger generations:  You can help create emotional intimacy when spouses and families share creative music experiences.  Whether it is downloading songs from iTunes, creating a Pandora play list or using the latest technical creation for digital music files, engage your kids in interacting with their grandparent or sibling with special needs to choose their favorite music.
  3. Pick the right setting:  It may not be as simple as turning on a radio.  The radio can be distracting with constant advertising that breaks the peace of music.  Instead, try internet radio like Pandora channels, or use an iPod or CD player.  And, be careful with headphones — some may take comfort in the privacy of headphones while others will become irritated or uncomfortable.   Also, consider live music situations carefully.  For author Gail Sheehy, being able to take her husband, who was suffering from cancer, to a last jazz night out on the town was a gift she will always treasure.  But, for special needs children and some older adults — the unsettling activity of a live concert or band can be frightening.
  4. Let your music play:  As a caregiver music is your therapy as well. Whether it is creating your own playlist to lift your mood when you have a “down day” or just taking pleasure in watching your loved one become engaged, music can make your heart soar.  Celia Pomerantz, author of A Mother’s Daughter’s Journey,  found that her mother, who grew up in Puerto Rico, loved a certain era of salsa music such as Tito Puente.  She created song lists of her mom’s favorite tunes while her mother was in the nursing home.  Celia became enchanted as her mother blossomed into the woman residents called “the dancing queen.”  The joy of music and watching her mother dance lifted Celia’s spirits about her mother’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
  5. Find a professional music therapist:  The American Music Therapy Association (AMTA), a non-profit organization that represents over 5,000 music therapists, corporate members and related associations worldwide offers information about music therapy studies and a listing of credentialed music therapists that offer services in institutional, residential and private home settings.

 Music can both evoke and create memories that last forever.  I close with this heartwarming story from the AMTA website:

When a couple danced together for the first time after five years of the husband’s deterioration from probable Alzheimer’s disease, the wife said: “Thank you for helping us dance. It’s the first time in three years that my husband held me in his arms.” Tearfully, she said that she had missed him just holding her and that music therapy had made that possible.

©2012 Sherri Snelling

Learn More:

About Blog Author Sherri Snelling

Sherri Snelling, CEO and founder of the Caregiving Club, is a nationally recognized expert on America’s 65 million family caregivers with special emphasis on how to help caregivers balance “self care” while caring for a loved one. She is the former chairman of the National Alliance for Caregiving and is currently writing a book about celebrities who have been caregivers.


  43 Responses to “Caregivers Take Note – Music as Therapy”

  1. I have found that it does help calm my mom down. With satellite tv, I turn to the old time country and have her sing along with me. Sometime she knows that words sometimes not but she always hums along

  2. When my mother was in the final stages of Alzheimer's she had not been able to speak recognizable words for over a year. At her sister's funeral she had no idea where she was, or why she was there. But when the choir began to sing the old time hymns of her childhood, my mother joined in singing every word of every song. It is true that music heals the heart. Perhaps now there is hope that it might heal the mind.

  3. My mom will tape her feet and bob her head with the beat as she is falling asleep. Music also calms her down. Loves Bing Crosby

  4. I am a nurse on a memory care unit at a nursing home and I see how many of those residents even in the later stages of Alzheimer's can sing right along with most of those old tunes. We have many musical guests that come in to sing for the residents as well as sing along videos and CDs

  5. Music soothes the soul and heals the heart, is what we try to convey to our caregivers Music can serve as a stress reliever not just for the patient but for the caregiver as well. Discuss with the family or patient receiving care if they have a favorite tune. It generates conversation, it sparks memories and its great.

  6. Thank you so much for this thoughtful post. I am a board-certified music therapist specializing in work with elders and their caregivers. Your suggestions for how caregivers can use music in caregiving are spot-on. I hope that many more people can find ways to connect with their loved ones through music.

  7. The last stages of alz., left my mom crippled and unable to talk. Family gatherings brought us together with song and music. Playing the guitar, dancing and singing were medicine for my mom. She would stand and her little body would sway to the music. The music would stop and she'd slump back into her chair. I have seen the miracle of music and what it did for my mom. May her soul rest in peace.

  8. When I was caring for my mother when she battled Early Onset Alzheimers, one of the first things I learned was that she would always "perk up" and be in a happier mood when I would play her music for her. She grew up listening to Motown and loved when I would play the Supremes, Temptations, marvin Gaye, etc. She recognized the music and would tap her feet and "jive" as I called it to the music. Even in her final stages, it was music that relaxed her and set her at ease. There must be something said for the power of music and the effect it can have not only on one's mind but one's soul.

  9. What a great article. I like that Sherri identified how it can also help the caregiver. There are many people who feel uncomfortable visiting with a person who has a form of dementia or Alzheimer's disease. Sometimes family members are not recognized by the patient and this can cause much pain and frustration. Participating in music together, whether it be singing with your loved one or even just listening together can fill the void and ease the pain. If this is something you would like to do but do not know where to begin a music therapist can be of great assistance in the facilitation of such activities and for on-going music therapy.

    • Truly poignant. Thank you for mentioning this Lisa. Often times our caregivers struggle most. We are so fortunate to use music to help connect others, to awaken sense of self and purpose. Thank you for the work you do.

  10. Thank you for posting info on how to contact a Board Certified Music Therapist. We are trained on how to use music to acheive therapuetic goals. To know when to use and when not to use music also. Music's ability to move us and connect us is truly remarkable.

  11. Our friend loves our sing-alongs in the car. Whether driving a short distance to the store or an hour to the next town for a ballroom dance session, we sing all the way. Since she is in her early 80s, music from the '30s and '40s appeals to her and altho her language is disappearing fast, she often sings words to songs that we can't remember! She has been a dancer for over 20 years and even tho her regular gait is plodding and stiff, when she gets on the floor in her dancing shoes, she can follow amazingly complex footwork in cha cha, swing, mambo and rumba. Her teacher says it is muscle memory. It is the highlight of her week. She doesn't know what the dances are called but she can execute them much better than lots of the younger people at the studio. Of course, some of her clothing combinations are a bit bizarre but everyone knows her and makes allowances. I will be sad when she can no longer sing and dance.

  12. My husband resided in a nursing home for over 5 years with Alzheimer's. When I would play the piano I found he knew all the first verses of many hymns. The last week he lived he did not talk, but sang "Jesus Loves me" 3 different times. I will continue to play hymns once a month for a church service for the residents. Also at other times I will play music from my era-1940's–which they enjoy listening to. Music is wonderful for the patient and caregiver.

    • I also play piano for my mom who has Alzheimers. I play all hymns for her and she knows every word and sings along. I play for an hour after supper. She lights up and enjoys the music. We also sing gospel songs at bedtime. Often she moves her lips to the words rather than speaking them. This calms her for sleep. I believe in the power of music.

  13. While my mother was in the hospital, I placed my headphones on her and she listened to some her favorite tunes from my ipod, the good stuff, Motown, and a little BB King. After her release, my husband made a couple of cd's and I kept them playing in her room none stop. The music seemed to soothe her. The night before she passed away, I suppose I sensed it, I prayed for her, and sung a song I remembered from childhood she use to sing…"Jesus is on the main line…tell Him what you want…just call Him up and tell Him what you want." Even now, as I write this, I realize I turn to music in my worst and best of times.

    In the movie, the Notebook, I burst into tears when the staff rolled Alli into a room with other individuals, and just left her and them there. No stimulation. No music. Just the misery, and hurt inside, of knowing you no longer have your mind.

    Okay, I'm crying. Thank you for this post. Thank you for hearing us, and thank you for hearing our loved ones with dementia and Alzheimers.

    • Actually, after further errsaech on the HBO site, they do talk more about the errsaech behind cognitive reserve in their . Thank you to Randy Buckner from Harvard Univesity and David Bennett from Rush University Medical Center for your great work in this area.

  14. I am in my early stage of Alzeimers going on 3 years. I have always loved 50's music and when I listen to the old songs I grew up with-I feel like I am "back in the 50's I tonite"! It takes my mind off the terrible disease I have and for just a little while I can go back in time and forget about the present and what my future has in store for me. I also love old time gospel as it gives me a sense of peace and as I prepare to meet my savior.

  15. Thank you for sharing this article! Music is magic for my Dad who has advanced Alzheimer’s. Although he cannot make a cohesive sentence most of the time, he sings the words of his favorite songs and cannot stop dancing! It makes him so happy. I have many videos of him enjoying music on our Alzheimer’s blog!

  16. Just one week before my mother's death, she lay in limbo, not talking and mostly between this world and the next. Since I realized this was the last time I would see her, I listened to my intuition, which told me to sing to her. So I leaned close to her ear and very softly sang into her ear, in several different languages. Lo and behold, she opened her mouth and made sounds on long vowels. Our duets went on for a good 15 minutes. Though she likely didn't know who I was, she nevertheless felt joy in joining in. I was so grateful that I came to that beautiful last experience with her.

  17. Very true for my mother! We knew it was true for her whether science proved it or not, but as an academic I am glad to have it be researched. Thanks for posting and for letting me know that we did a good thing.

  18. My Mom always loved music and used to wake up every morning singing, even after she was diagnoses with AD. Song and music helped shape a better day for her. Curiously, as the disease progressed, music with high frequency vocals or vocals with a lot of twang or vibrato became a source of irritation. But the old wartime classics, big band sounds of the WWII era, were her favorites, and classical music. One time, when she was in late stage Alzheimer's and her hearing was almost gone, I tried to introduce her to headphones. That didn't go over very well. It was apparently too jolting, even at the lowest perceptible volume. Maybe it was the feeling of the headphones. Maybe it was the sound or vibration. It's impossible to know. Good article. Thank you.

    • to anyone reading this: don’t forget trying ” pillow speakers” if head phones aren’t tolerated–but don’t forget to try the very light one–$20′s worth.ML

  19. It’s sweet to hear how such a simple thing as music can aid those who are already experiencing dementia. Generally, you hear only of things to offset the development Alzheimer’s, not something beneficial to use with those already affected by dementia. Moreover, I enjoyed how you expressed the need for caregivers to reduce some of the stress that they experience. Often the caregivers are overlooked, even though they are having to deal with both the emotional and physical stress of supporting a loved one with dementia.

    • The emotions you experience can be mind blowing and then you beat yourself up for having them. Love is always the Key and remembering to stop comparing who they were to who they are !!!!! Just cherish your memories them and know they can't control who they are becoming and focus on the love you have for them. Yes, music can be a common denominator while dealing with Alzheimer's !!!!!

  20. Great article! Music adds so much to our Alzheimer’s clients’ lives. The caregiving plan you wrote about is really interesting too. Thanks for sharing!

  21. My 95 yr old mom is in the late stages of Alzheimers … she is hearing impaired (not totally deaf) but refuses to use her hearing aids because of the static. Can anyone recommend a product (headphone / earbuds) that will help her hear the music without the hearing aids that she so much enjoyed all her life?

  22. The possibility of music helping to unlock memories for loved ones is exciting, and this process of learning and retaining new memory is one of the major steps needed to help cope with the disease, and provide an opportunity to form new routines.

  23. How do your loved ones play their music if you are not with them? My mother has vascular dementia & has always loved & played her music for most of her younger days. I got her a small radio with a ear bud, a headset & set up CD player in her room but she doesn't want anything to do with it unless I encourage her. With her dementia, I think it is too difficult for her to manage by herself so she loses interest. I would like to get her an ipod for clarity, etc. but she showed no interest in the tiny radio with ear bud that I tried first. Over the Christmas Holiday, I put it on a station that played Christmas music 24 hrs a day with no commercials as she always treasured her Christmas music.

  24. I fully support the benefits of music therapy. My husband who is afflicted with Alzheimer, positively enjoys the musical activity. He has learned tabla and still plays correct rhythm when I sing different songs. When I ask him the details of the one he played, he has no clue. It comes to him naturally. He also remembers the tunes of his favorite songs. His face is lit up when involved in this session. Lately this session is getting of shorter and shorter and shorter. That's quite alright. The effect of music is already achieved. I recommend strongly to get invoked into this activity for yourself as well as the patient.

  25. My mother had Alzheimer's and died three years ago. She loved dancing and singing and still could do both deep into her time with the disease. Once I had to take her for an injection of Reclast for preventation of Osteoporis. The doctor's office staff asked me what they could do to keep her calm. I said "sing." So we sang one of her favorite songs from Showboat. "Fish gotta swim. Birds gotta fly. I'm gonna love that man till I die…" Despite the needle in her arm my mother smiled and sang. In tribute to a wonderful mother and to help other caregivers of loved ones cope, I wrote My Million Dollar Mom (buybooksontheweb.com)

  26. Great arrticle on dementia and music therapy.

  27. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WuY2_8DWqtA
    song written after placing my mom in long term care for Alzheimer's
    please watch and share
    Bakhus

  28. It was so good to read that music is such a positive therepy for Alzheimer patients. My husband was diagnosed with MCI 9 months ago. We just purchased a new music system and he listens every day for several hours. We did not realize what a benefit it would be for him. I guess we made a good purchase. Thanks for the message.

  29. The impact of music on the withdrawn state of advanced dementia needs to be mre widely known and practised–particularly with the breakthrough that is allowed by the use of MP3′s loaded with suitable music. The big advantage is that this can be done by relatives–low cost, no music therapist(all too rare in my country, Australia)–and the relatives can feel in touch again with the person they thought they’d lost. The suggestion that there is a separate musical self that survives when the other self has gone explains the finding that many of us who are promotinfg singing groups have found..–

  30. Visiting Angels is indeed a blessing. I needed someone to care for my mom who lives in Palm Beach Gardens, FL. She suffers from Alzheimer’s and I live in England. I was able to choose the right caregiver for my Mom. The person was experienced and had excellent credentials. I have peace of mind knowing that Mom is in capable hands.

  31. This article spoke to my spirit, which by the way needed a lift. I have more down- in-spirit days while caring and watching my Dad's progression with Alzheimer's !!!!! I do know that music can certainly cause happy feelings, yet, you can become so down-in-spirit that you don't do what you know helps lift your spirit. And it's gets harder and harder to shake, not helping yourself get through !!!!! Fortunately, I'm not one to waddle-in-the-meir for long periods of time but I hit the Meir more often. Oh my goodness this disease, Alzheimer, is a sad and heart-wrenching thing to watch as your loved one disappears. Appropriately called the "The Long Goodbye" !!!!! I need music for my Dad and me and I will work on that !!!!!

  32. Valuable info. Lucky me I discovered your web site by accident, and I am shocked why this accident did not happened earlier! I bookmarked it.

  33. Our family knows how important Music is to everyone. Our family was part of a group that took music to nursing homes (sometimes as high as 8 different places a month) for many years. Mother managed the group and kept everyone on target as to where we were to be and when. During the course of our music, we found out that Mother played the harmonica. She was even in the harmonica band at school. We already knew she sang in the Glee Club that sang at many funerals.
    When Alzheimer's began to take its toll, she turned over managing to someone else. At long as she could, she still accompanied us, sometimes sang and always seem to enjoy the music. The clients would tell us how much they enjoyed us coming and we would always say that we got as much from being there as they did. You could be really low, go to music and be uplifted.
    One of the last times Mother was able to go to music, she wasn't reacting to anything until a particular religious song started. She started singing. We handed her the microphone and she sang every verse and every word correctly.
    .My sister played that song at her graveside service. It sent goosebumps up your arms.
    We still are taking music to Nursing homes because we know how important it is to clients, Alzheimer patients, and our band members. Music is truly a win-win opportunity.

  34. I have been involved with Reminiscence work with people with dementia and their carers for over 16 years in London, England. I have seen how music and art can change the mood and behaviour of the people who participate in our groups. The pleasant smiles when they hear their favourite song, the tapping of feet and clapping of hands, the spontaneous singing and dancing and the memories and stories that are provoked. There is also the joy that is seen on the faces of the caregiver.
    I would highly recommend music and art to anyone caring for or working with people with dementia.

  35. This is a great article. It touches the care giver., family and the individual.

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