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.

SEE ALSO: Find Memory Care Near You

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.


over 1 year ago, said...

Have you heard of Alzheimers Music Connect (website)? I ordered their CD for my father for Christmas after reading about their research and the calming effects of their specially crafted music, bought an iPod and headphones, and he died before he could use them. However, in reading your article in Parade I didn't see them mentioned, so thought I would let you know about it.


over 2 years ago, said...

The ideas of the types of music to try was very helpful.


over 2 years ago, said...

Music continues to be the glue that keeps my husband and me on the same page. I know the musicthat his long term memory relates to and a few he liked thru the years. I downloaded the arrangements performed by his favorite artists and burned them to CD's. His music plays every afternoon during our Sundowner drives, again during his daytime rest periods and the early part of his nights. It engages him sometime, keeps him calm sometime and helps me, too.


almost 3 years ago, said...

I have Big Band Christmas Music, and a lot of Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas CDs, so I play them between Thansgiving and New Year's for Dad, whenever we are out and about. Even Dr's waiting rooms. some of them are so quiet and sad, it brings some light into the Dr's office! Helps to try to get me into the Christmas Mood!


almost 3 years ago, said...

Thank you! I have a radio station in my car that plays music from the early 40s (but only have the station for another month). I play it for my dad whenever I visit and we go out somewhere! As soon as he hears the music his eyes light up and he starts smiling! I love to see him like this! Now I'm looking for music from the 40s so I can play it for him inside too! Thanks for the article!


over 3 years ago, said...

My grandpa loves music and so did his wife who had Alz.


over 3 years ago, said...

I don't remember a lot of Mom's tunes, but music has been helpful for a long time. If I need to divert her attention, I just start singing "Your Are My Sunshine" or "Jesus Loves Me," and we're ready to go. Last time my sister and I were visiting, we were walking with Mom and singing "You Are My Sunshine" and pretty soon every one was singing!!!


over 3 years ago, said...

My wife was a music major in college and still enjoys many kinds of good music despite her dementia. I would like to add a few recommendations. The "strong bass line" mentioned in the article is also common in baroque music and in South American music, which often have a fairly steady volume level. Nursing homes are noisy and noise-cancelling headphones may be awkward or ineffective. U should be able to set the volume control so that softer parts can be heard while louder parts do not disturb others. Avoid music with frequent rapid changes in volume! Playing CD-s with short tracks (under 10 minutes) on a programmable player is good. U can play a few tracks and then have a pause for a short walk in the hall, a change in musical style, a hug, or whatever.


almost 4 years ago, said...

I would add classical music to the list if the person has played an instrument in his/her early years. My husband (moderate dementia) had not touched his clarinet in 50 years. We had it refurbished; he and I put together a play-list of tunes (some popular, some classical) and he plays them entirely by ear on an almost daily basis. It is very satisfying to him and has kept him positive and calm.


about 4 years ago, said...

I have always played bluegrass for my dad , so it was natural to continue as the AZ got worse. It is true that even though my dad can not speak a sentence his toes will tap to music.. Its so beautiful!!!


about 4 years ago, said...

My father has Alzheimers and it is always helpful to know things that I can use when I go and visit with him...now what songs to sing.


about 4 years ago, said...

Very well-put, concise article & it jibes with my own experience with my Mom, I might add 3 other types; Folk songs (On top of Old Smokey is a favorite), Western songs (Home on the Range), and Patriotic songs (My Country tis of Thee).


over 4 years ago, said...

Knowing what kind of music people with dementia like to listen to. It makes it easier to pick out music that they will like.


almost 5 years ago, said...

This past Monday night my dad and I watched the country music awards and dad sat there singing along with the singers. I was shocked-he even knew the words to some newer songs (It was fantastic) It was a fantastic evening. After reading this article today it makes me even more hopeful that he really did enjoy the music.


almost 5 years ago, said...

We put his to test the first day we read about it and was so surpised how quickly Dad's mood changed.. He started singing and tapping his hand on his leg and bopping head to the music... It was so fun sharing this happy moment with him.


almost 5 years ago, said...

Have noticed that Christmas music and Religious hymns soothed my mother. Will try the other 3 types to see if they help.


almost 5 years ago, said...

Music is soothing for nerves. It helps repeatition and remembering.I usually sit with my wife twice a day for 15 minutes each time listening music. It is remedial.


almost 5 years ago, said...

Just the over-all thing on music and now with the holidays coming it will be much easier to sing Christmas carols with my Dad and play music for him. Thank you


almost 5 years ago, said...

I think that without any statistical data or reference to a specific study with experimental proof, this approach cannot be taken seriously. What age group was targeted? At what specific level of Alzheimer's did the 'therapy' commence? At best, the "musical" approach can only be viewed as a very individualized treatment technique.


almost 5 years ago, said...

confirming what i already suspected. The tough part is finding ways to have my mom hear this music. She used to use a CD player but that has gotten more difficult for her and the only thing she uses is the TV on her own. She lives in assisted living and they offer events with music but she is anti-social and unless someone gets very agressive about making her attend (which the staff won't do) she misses most of these events. My sister, who lives out of town, plays music for her in the car when she comes to visit mom. With me, mom and I take generally short shopping trips and and chat in the car. But lately, mom has been using this "Chat" time to complain. She complains about everything from not being able to drive anymore to the food at her assisted living place. So maybe I should forget the chat and try the music?