Music, Art and Alzheimer’s

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Music and art can enrich the lives of people with Alzheimer’s disease. Both allow for self-expression and engagement, even after dementia has progressed.

Music

Music can be powerful. Studies have shown music may reduce agitation and improve behavioral issues that are common in the middle-stages of the disease. Even in the late-stages of Alzheimer’s, a person may be able to tap a beat or sing lyrics to a song from childhood. Music provides a way to connect, even after verbal communication has become difficult.

Use these tips when selecting music for a person with dementia:

        • Identify music that’s familiar and enjoyable to the person. If possible, let the person choose the music.
        • Choose a source of music that isn’t interrupted by commercials, which can cause confusion.
        • Use music to create the mood you want. For example, a tranquil piece of music can help create a calm environment, while a faster paced song from someone’s childhood may boost spirit and evoke happy memories.
        • Encourage movement (clapping, dancing) to add to the enjoyment.
        • Avoid sensory overload; eliminate competing noises by shutting windows and doors and by turning off the television. Make sure the volume of the music is not too loud.

The below video is from our recent “Updates on Dementia” education conference. Musical innovator Beatie Wolfe explains how to connect with people with dementia through the power of music.

Art

Art projects can create a sense of accomplishment and purpose. They can provide the person with dementia — as well as caregivers — an opportunity for self-expression.

When planning an art activity for someone with middle- to late-stage Alzheimer’s, keep these tips in mind:

  • Keep the project on an adult level. Avoid anything that might be demeaning or seem child-like.
  • Build conversation into the project. Provide encouragement, discuss what the person is creating or reminiscence.
  • Help the person begin the activity. If the person is painting, you may need to start the brush movement. Most other projects should only require basic instruction and assistance.
  • Use safe materials. Avoid toxic substances and sharp tools.
  • Allow plenty of time, keeping in mind that the person doesn’t have to finish the project in one sitting.

The below video is from a presentation by the Institute on Aging on the many benefits of art for people with dementia and their caregivers.

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