Music and Dementia

5 Kinds of Music Someone With Severe-Stage Dementia May Still Enjoy

Music can have a strong effect on people with Alzheimer's and other dementias. But as the disease progresses, what surprises many people is the strength of this effect. Sometimes hearing music can create a seeming "snapping out of it" for the person with severe dementia.

The mental grooves laid down by music are deep and multifaceted -- they exist in several different areas of the brain. People who are barely verbal have been known to sing hymns loud and clear or play the piano beautifully. Those who find it hard to walk may try to "shake a leg" and dance. Even if the effects aren't so profound for your loved one, the mood-boosting benefits of music are definitely worth keeping in his or her life.

Five types of tunes to try:

1. Favorites from the person's late teens or 20s. Maybe because young adults are such avid listeners (and, back in the day, dancers), music from this phase of one's life has been shown to be especially favored decades later.

2. Christmas music. You know yourself (whatever your faith!) how persistently some of these tunes pop back into your head once a year. It doesn't have to be December for you to play old favorites.

3. Religious hymns. Someone who regularly attended services may welcome an album of classics.

4. Children's music. Because very old memories tend to last longest, some older adults still connect with nursery rhymes. After all, they may have been heard both in youth and again when a young parent.

5. Jazz or bluegrass. Even someone who never was an aficionado may groove to a style with a strong bass line.

Paula Spencer Scott

Paula Spencer Scott is the author of Surviving Alzheimer's: Practical Tips and Soul-Saving Wisdom for Caregivers and much of the Alzheimer's and caregiving content on Caring. See full bio