Study: Alzheimer’s Symptoms Reduced By Music

Creating a soothing environment and positive atmosphere with music is a great way for caregivers to prevent agitation in someone with Alzheimer’s.

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Think Twice About the TV
Caring for an Alzheimer’s patient is not an easy task. Many dementia caregivers struggle to settle on appropriate and worthwhile activities to fill time that isn’t scheduled for doctor’s appointments, therapy, meals, or sleeping. It’s not surprising to know that many caregivers pressed for time or spent of energy, whether in an assisted living facility or at home, turn to the television to take up some of a dementia patient’s day.

Just as the TV isn’t the best choice of babysitter for children, it doesn’t really do Alzheimer’s patients any favors either. From time to time, there may be a bit of nostalgia triggered by a certain sitcom episode or old movie, but most programs are more harmful than helpful. Routine is important for a dementia patient, but if your mother used to tune into an evening medical or legal drama regularly or your father was permanently parked on the news, these sorts of potentially violent or tense programs can cause unnecessary anxiety and agitation.

Television needn’t be completely banned, but if you do choose the TV over other forms of engagement, make sure the station is tuned to uplifting and positive programming. There is an alternative to the passive engagement or empty entertainment of television, however, that will be far more soothing to a dementia patient: music.

Music is the Great Equalizer
No matter who you are, no matter what generation you grew up in, there will always be songs that transport you to a different place and time and remind you of cherished memories. Can you say the same about television programs? Maybe, but the impact can’t be nearly as meaningful as the comfort and reassurance of music.

Studies of Alzheimer’s patients have shown that music can reduce agitation or even improve or minimize violent outbursts or other behavioral issues. Jarring commercials—in both sound and image—can be distressing to anyone, let alone a person with dementia. Music playing softly is far more likely to put your loved one at ease than the noise, confusion, and “reality” of today’s television programming.

Start with music that is familiar to the patient—perhaps songs from their youth that you know were favorites, or any melodies in a genre to which they once connected. Classical music in particular is a good choice. You may need to test out different styles of music before finding an artist or category that is most effective at creating an atmosphere of pleasant calm. Nothing has to be off-limits—so don’t rule out the potential good that some classic rock might do for your loved one.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest