Many of you know that my mother, Louise, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease about five years ago. She resides in a facility with about 12 other residents and enjoys activities and interaction with her caregivers.
Mom is still very talkative, although her words are wrong. Since the other residents are mute for the most part, she can’t really converse with these folks, I suggested playing CDs of her favorite classical music works in her room. One of her dearest caregivers, also a music lover, visits two times a week, brings her boombox, and plays CDs for Mom. The two of them sing together and really enjoy themselves.
Mom studied ballet for many years, and was absolutely ecstatic when the caregiver put in a DVD of Swan Lake. Suddenly Mom became coherent, saying things like, “Isn’t that beautiful.” and “Aren’t they graceful!” The joy and rapture on my mother’s face was something to behold, and when it came time for the caregiver to depart, Mom would say, “Bless your heart.”
Pick their favorite music
Sometimes they would play one of the symphonies of Tchaikovsky or Beethoven. The two of them would be singing and directing the music and the other residents would come wondering into Mom’s room to see what all the singing and laughter was about!
So the staff started playing some of the ballets and concert DVDs on the big screen TV for all the residents to enjoy. These were free from the library. It was incredible to see the residents’ faces become animated as the music soared and the melodies enveloped them and drew them into the emotion of the pieces. They found the ballets fascinating, and oohed and aahed throughout.
I was so glad to hear this. I hate to think of the boredom some of the residents might feel just parked in front of the television after afternoon activities with nothing to watch but an old western or musical. Most fall asleep. Why not introduce them to something “new and different?” I’m sure not all of them frequented the ballet and classical performances like my parents did.
Here is a compilation of Mom’s favorite pieces, found recently among her papers:
“Moon River,” by Henry Mancini
“Always,” by Irving Berlin
The Soundtrack from the movie “Dr. Zhivago”
Anything written by Johnny Mercer
Franz Liszt: Piano Concerto #2
Ralph Vaughn Williams: Fantasia in Greensleeves,
Symphony #2 “The London Symphony”
Tchaikovsky: Serenade in C Major for Strings & Orchestra
Faure: Pavane for a Dead Princess, Sicilienne
Mendelsohn: Violin Concerto #4 in E Minor
Ravel: Intro and Allegro for Harp and Flute, Piano Concerto in G Major
Delius: Florida Suite (Mom sent this to me when I moved to Florida)
Sibelius: Symphony #9
Dvorak: Piano Concerto #32, Overture- In Nature’s Realm
She marked this one “Best:” Johannes Brahms: Symphony #4
The Mayo Clinic had this to say about music and Alzheimer’s patients:
- Think about your loved one’s preferences. What kind of music does your loved one enjoy? Involve family and friends by asking them to suggest songs or make playlists. If you can, select music from the individual’s young adult years—ages 18 to 25— as these are most likely to have the strongest responses and the most potential for engagement.
- Set the mood.To calm your loved one during mealtime or a morning hygiene routine, play music or sing a song that’s soothing. When you’d like to boost your loved one’s mood, use faster paced music.
- Avoid overstimulation.When playing music, eliminate competing noises. Turn off the TV. Shut the door. Set the volume based on your loved one’s hearing ability. Opt for music that isn’t interrupted by commercials, which can cause confusion.
- Encourage movement. Help your loved one to clap along or tap his or her feet to the beat. If possible, dance with your loved one.
- Pay attention to your loved one’s response. If your loved one seems to enjoy particular songs, play them often. If your loved one reacts negatively to a particular song or type of music, choose something else.
All of these suggestions worked well for my mother. The caregiver always asked my mother first whether she would like to go to her room and listen to music (she always said yes), and suggested a music piece before playing it. If Mom smiled or closed her eyes, we knew that she was enjoying herself.
The Alzheimer’s Foundation says, when used appropriately, music can shift mood, manage stress-induced agitation, stimulate positive interactions, facilitate cognitive function, and coordinate motor movements. Rhythmic and other well-rehearsed responses to music require little to no cognitive or mental processing. They are influenced by the motor center of the brain that responds directly to auditory rhythmic cues.
A person’s ability to engage in music, particularly rhythm playing and singing, remains intact late into the disease process because, again, these activities do not mandate cognitive functioning for success. Most people associate music with important events and a wide array of emotions. The connection can be so strong that hearing a tune long after the occurrence evokes a memory of it.
As dementia progresses, individuals typically lose the ability to share thoughts and gestures of affection with their loved ones. However, they retain their ability to move with the beat until very late in the disease process.
Ambulatory individuals can be easily directed to couple dance, which may evoke hugs, kisses or caresses; those who are no longer walking can follow cues to rhythmically swing their arms. They often allow gentle rocking or patting in beat to the music and may reciprocate with affection.
Non-verbal individuals in late dementia often become agitated out of frustration and sensory overload from the inability to process environmental stimuli. Engaging them in singing, rhythm playing, dancing, physical exercise, and other structured music activities can diffuse this behavior and redirect their attention.
Have I missed anything? Let me know.
I’ll continue to pass along tips and ideas for helping Alzheimer’s patients’ quality of life as I learn them!
Bless you for caring!