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Songs for Seniors: Organizing Musical Activities for Older Adults with Dementia

Posted on 
September 14, 2023

Dementia is a condition that impacts thought and memory. Older adults who struggle with the condition may have difficulty remembering past events, future plans and even the names of their loved ones. It can be heartbreaking to see the personality and cognition changes that are so common with dementia, and the disease is progressive, meaning it continues to get worse over time.

Fortunately, certain techniques can help seniors maintain their cognitive abilities and prevent them from worsening, and music is a unique approach that's surprisingly effective. Read on to learn more about how it works and how to develop musical activities for seniors with dementia to enjoy.

Music Therapy and Its Benefits for Memory Care

In the Disney movie, Coco, the main character is Miguel, and his grandmother, Coco, is in the late stages of dementia, not even recognizing her own daughter. When Miguel plays on the guitar a song that Coco's father had written for her when she was a child, she becomes lucid once again and regales her family with stories of her childhood. While the real-world effects of music for seniors with dementia may not be quite so profound and immediate, music is still highly beneficial when it comes to Memory Care.

People tend to create strong memories around particular pieces of music. Whenever they hear that piece, it can bring back the memory associated with it, so hearing favorite songs can help seniors with dementia hold on to memories that may be slipping away. The benefits don't just come from listening to music, though, but through playing it as well, and seniors don't have to be expert musicians to reap the benefits.

Learning to play a musical instrument and reading sheet music activates multiple areas of the brain at once, helping to reinforce and maintain mental connections. Many people report entering a flow state when playing music, focusing solely on the task at hand. The challenge of learning something new or improving a long-forgotten skill strengthens the brain and helps to stave off the worst effects of dementia.

Musical Activity Ideas for Seniors with Dementia

You can find countless ways to get seniors involved in enjoying and making music. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Sing-Alongs: Many people love to sing, regardless of whether they have a talent for it, so organizing a group sing-along is a great way to bring music into the lives of the seniors in your care. Look for well-known, popular music that many people are likely to recognize. Focus on music from seniors' younger years to help reinforce memories while also having a good time.
  • Musical Instruments: A person doesn't have to be a classically trained musician to enjoy the benefits of playing music. Even just experimenting with a new instrument can have an impact. Choose a variety of instruments with different methods of play to accommodate various physical abilities. For example, a senior with arthritis may struggle to play the piano but might have an easier time with a wind instrument.
  • Name That TV Theme: Television theme songs often get burned into our memories after hearing them over and over again, and making a game out of recognizing various theme songs stimulates and engages the brain while also creating a fun, mildly competitive atmosphere. Aim for a mix of old and current TV themes to encourage more brain connections.

What to Expect from Musical Activities in Dementia Care

Apart from giving seniors something fun and engaging to do, musical activities bring a wide range of other benefits besides just a good time. For starters, seniors with dementia who play or otherwise engage with music often demonstrate improved social, emotional and communication skills. When the music is associated with a past memory, it can bring on a sense of nostalgia, encouraging seniors to look back to other past events and reinforcing those memories as well. Finally, when seniors with dementia have better control over their mental capacities, they often enjoy improved mood stability as well, making life easier for themselves and their caregivers.

Here at Falcons Landing, we strive to incorporate musical activities frequently for the seniors in our Hillside House Memory Care program. We welcome you to get in touch with us today to learn more about our care options for seniors, how we improve and enrich seniors' lives and how we can help your loved one with dementia get the care they need.

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