For About and By Caregivers
The Gift of Music for the Holidays

By  Barbara Jacobs, M.S.


As a caregiver for someone with dementia, you may be wondering what gift to give your loved one for the holidays. Have you considered the gift of music this holiday season?

In my fifteen years of experience as a therapeutic musician, I have led countless musical sing-along programs for those with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. During these programs, I often witness music’s power to unlock memories.  My students remember the melody and lyrics of old familiar songs as well as the life experiences that the music evokes.  I find this to be true for all stages of the disease and current research confirms my experience.

One of my students, Edie, is 85 and has mid-to-late-stage Alzheimer’s disease. She rarely speaks, but when I played “Home on the Range” on the piano, she went from sitting quietly to becoming quite animated.  Edie shouted, “I had a horse named Buddy.”  This type of reaction to familiar music no longer surprises me.  Music can bring dramatic behavioral changes, encourages socialization, and improves the overall wellbeing of those with dementia.

Research confirms the benefits music has for Alzheimer’s patients. It has been reported that singing on a daily basis will raise the brain chemicals melatonin, epinephrine and norepinephrine in our blood levels, thus positively affecting our mental state.  Testing of patients with dementia who sing daily shows that these elevated blood chemicals help them to become more active, more cooperative, less agitated and often improves their ability to sleep. 

With the strong evidence of the positive benefits of music and singing, wouldn’t it be wonderful if your loved one could sing every day?  There are a variety of ways to bring old favorite music into their lives. Your local public library is a good resource for borrowing free musical CDs and old movies or operas on DVD. There are a number of music and sing-along programs on the market that can be purchased through senior product catalogs and Web sites. You might also consult your local skilled nursing facility’s activity director for suggestions and ideas about their favorite musical activity program.

As the holidays approach, I encourage you to consider a musical gift for your loved one.  I know you will be happy you did, as it will be beneficial and enjoyable for them, and it may give you some well-deserved respite time. 

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