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Alzheimer’s Dementia - Music and the Mind

Posted by Victor Montour | | filed under:
May 26, 2016 03:02 PM

For centuries, music has been known to calm people down and provide relief from stress and tension. Neuroscientists, now equipped with brain scanning technology, have a renewed interest in finding how music affects our neural circuits.

Researchers in Finland using magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) found that music listening recruits not only the auditory areas of the brain, but also employs large-scale neural networks. For instance, they discovered that the processing of musical pulses recruits motor areas in the brain, supporting the idea that music and movement are closely intertwined.

Limbic areas of the brain, known to be associated with emotions, were found to be involved in rhythm and tonality processing. Music can be powerful in many ways, like reducing agitation and improve behavioral issues that are common in the middle-stages of Alzheimer’s.

In the late-stages of Alzheimer's, a person may be able to tap a beat or sing lyrics to a song from childhood. Researchers have found that music provides a way to connect, even after verbal communication has become difficult or absent.

A few tips when selecting music for a person with Alzheimer’s /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
  • Think ahead: make playlists of different kinds of songs for different kinds of mood.


If you would like more information about Front Range Hospice and how we use music therapy, call 303-957-3101 or 970-776-8080 or email us at [email protected]

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