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Harmony in Memory: How Music Connects Us to Loved Ones with Dementia

In the heartrending journey of dementia care, moments of connection become increasingly rare and precious. As a daughter, your role shifts from being a child to a caregiver, the dynamic changes, and the challenges multiply. Frequently during the dementia journey, we're often so focused on the physical and cognitive aspects of dementia care that we overlook a powerful, yet underutilized tool – the magic of music. Today, we want to shine a spotlight on the extraordinary bond between music and memory, exploring its potential in the world of dementia care.

Unpacking the Science:

While dementia may chip away at recent memories, older ones often remain intact longer, buried deep in the recesses of the mind. Music, especially songs associated with significant personal events, can trigger these dormant memories, sparking recognition, and even momentary clarity. Delving into the neurology behind it, we will discuss how and why music impacts the brain and memory in dementia patients, shedding light on this intriguing intersection of neuroscience and personal history.

The Power of Personalized Playlists:

We will dive into the process of creating personalized playlists, tailored to your loved ones' tastes, experiences, and significant life moments. While this might seem like a simple act, it can open doors to profound connections, evoke emotions, and draw forth memories, offering a unique way to communicate when words fail.

Rekindling Connections:

With dementia, as the ability to converse wanes, so does the sense of connection. Music can bridge this gap. It can serve as a catalyst for shared experiences, bringing forth smiles, tears, and even bouts of dancing. In this section, we'll explore how to harness these shared musical experiences to rekindle emotional connections and to provide comfort in what can be an isolating journey.

Music Therapy - The Unspoken Ally:

Music therapy is a growing field that is yet to be fully integrated into dementia care. We will investigate how professional music therapists use music to engage, stimulate, and soothe individuals with dementia. We'll provide insights into how you, as a caregiver, can apply some of these techniques at home, bolstering your repertoire of caregiving tools.

Here are some valuable resources that can help you incorporate music into your dementia care approach.

  1. Alive Inside Foundation: (www.aliveinside.org)
    This not-for-profit foundation is dedicated to inspiring an empathy revolution through the power of music and film. They've created a compelling documentary titled "Alive Inside," which explores the miraculous power of music in dementia patients. It's a moving film that showcases the transformative potential of music in awakening emotions and memories in people with dementia. This documentary can provide an excellent starting point for understanding the potential of music in dementia care.

  2. Playlist for Life: (www.playlistforlife.org.uk)
    Playlist for Life is a UK-based charity that encourages families to create personalized playlists. Their website offers a wealth of resources, including a guide on how to make a playlist for someone with dementia, a free app for curating songs, and numerous personal stories from people who have experienced the power of personalized playlists. This resource will equip you to harness the power of music in a very personal and meaningful way.

  3. Music and Memory: (www.musicandmemory.org)
    This non-profit organization brings personalized music into the lives of the elderly or infirm through digital music technology, vastly improving quality of life. They offer an incredible program where they train nursing home staff and other elder care professionals, as well as family caregivers, to create and provide personalized playlists using iPods and related digital audio systems. This can help those struggling with Alzheimer's, dementia and other cognitive and physical challenges to reconnect with the world through music-triggered memories.

As an additional resource, I'd recommend the duet series by Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga, available on YouTube. Their collaboration bridges generations and musical styles, providing a range of songs that can resonate with different periods of a person's life. Here is a video of Lady Gaga explaining how she worked with Tony Bennett, despite his Alzheimer’s. Watch it here and click here to watch Tony Bennett recognize Lady Gaga on stage. Have your Kleenex ready for this one!

Incorporating music into your caregiving routine may require a bit of effort and exploration, but the potential rewards are immense. Music can truly open a window to the soul, even when the curtains of dementia seem to be drawing close. Embrace this underutilized tool, and you may find new ways to connect, communicate, and bring joy to your loved one's life.

  1. Musical Memory Box: Create a musical memory box together with your loved one. This could be a shoebox filled with mementos associated with their favorite songs - perhaps a photograph from a dance, a ticket stub from a concert, or even a handwritten lyric. Each item can be paired with a song on their personalized playlist. Exploring this box together, playing each corresponding song as you handle each memento, can provide a rich, sensory, and interactive experience that stimulates memory and encourages conversation.
  2. Sing-Along Sessions: Organize regular sing-along sessions. This could be as simple as singing favorite songs together or, for a more interactive approach, you could use karaoke tracks on YouTube. The visual aspect of lyrics on the screen can provide an additional memory aid. If your loved one is comfortable with it, you could even record these sessions - they can serve as a beautiful keepsake and also be shared with family members who may not be able to visit often
  3. Musical Storytelling: Use music as a springboard for storytelling. As you listen to a song from their personalized playlist, ask your parent about what that song reminds them of - this could be a person, a place, or an event from their past. Encourage them to share their memories and stories tied to that song. This activity not only fosters connection and communication but can also stimulate cognitive function.

Incorporating music into your dementia caregiving can provide a new dimension of connection, engagement, and joy. Each of these activities not only enriches your loved one's life but also offers an opportunity for you to learn more about their life history and experiences, deepening your bond and creating precious memories, despite the challenges of dementia.

By attending this workshop, you'll benefit from expert insights, practical tools, and a supportive community that understands your journey. You'll learn how to navigate the unique challenges of home care, transforming your role from a stressed caregiver to an empowered advocate for your loved one.

Imagine a future where you feel confident in your ability to provide loving, effective care at home. A future where you can harness resources like music to stimulate memory, spark joy, and foster deeper connections. A future where you are not just coping, but thriving in your role, providing the best possible care for your loved one while also taking care of yourself.

Take the first step towards that future today. Register for our workshop and start your journey from overwhelmed to empowered. You are not alone in this journey, and with the right tools and support, you can provide a loving, fulfilling, and safe home environment for your parents with dementia. Let us guide you on this path. 

Read More:

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About the author

“Think Different” Dementia’s owner, Lizette Cloete, OTR/L graduated as an Occupational Therapist from the University of Pretoria in South Africa in 1992. Lizette has almost 30 years of experience as an Occupational Therapist in a variety of settings, the latest being in the home health environment. She enjoys teaching on the topic of dementia, most recently presenting at a national conference on the topic “Dementia Made Simple”.

Disclaimer: These blogs, videos and any work done by Lizette Cloete OT, as a Member of Think Different Dementia, LLC, is given only as educational content and consulting work. This does not create an Occupational Therapist-Patient Relationship. The educational content and consulting work performed should not be considered medical treatment as an Occupational Therapist. The consulting work does not take the place of medical work normally performed by a licensed Occupational Therapist. Please consult a licensed Occupational Therapist for medical advice.

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