How Music is Helping Alzheimer’s Patients – And Where to Find Local Programs

Recent reports found that music can have benefits for those who have Alzheimer's or dementia. Find out how and get details on local programs.

Elderly man laying down listening to headphones

Music has the unique ability to “bring us back” to where we’ve been in life – and, it turns out, that’s why it may have a powerful impact on people facing dementia.

Researchers at the University of Utah found in 2018 that music can “activate” the salience network of the brain, which controls how we perceive and respond to stimuli in our environment, the university reported in a press release. This region is an “island of remembrance that is spared from the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease,” the release notes.

“People with dementia are confronted by a world that is unfamiliar to them, which causes disorientation and anxiety,” contributing author Jeff Anderson, M.D., Ph.D., explained. “We believe music will tap into the salience network of the brain that is still relatively functioning.”

While more research is ongoing, people who work with dementia patients are using this – and other data on the benefits of music for Alzheimer’s patients – to improve their lives now.

In Pauuilo, Hawaii, a local woman recently launched iPods for the Elderly, which uses donations to distribute used iPods to elderly people in the community with dementia.

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The founder, Jen McGeehan, 63, got the idea after watching a documentary about how people with Alzheimer’s can connect with memories after listening to music they once enjoyed in the past.

“There was a dramatic change in the lives of people with memory loss, and also on their family caregivers, as if they’d been resurrected,” McGeehan told West Hawaii Today. “I was inspired.”

Music programs for Alzheimer’s in Michigan

If you or someone you know is caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s, you may be looking for local programs here in southeast Michigan that incorporate music. Here’s a look at some of the options that offer these programs and how to get involved.

1. Detroit Symphony Orchestra

A day out listening to live symphony orchestra music can be more than just an enriching experience for patients with Alzheimer’s.

The DSO partners with the Alzheimer’s Association Greater Michigan Chapter to provide events designed with dementia patients in mind, giving them an “upfront and behind-the-scenes look at the DSO.” Find more information and upcoming events here.

2. Music and Memory

This national non-profit organization trains nursing home staff and other caregivers on how to provide personalized playlists that can help people with Alzheimer’s and other dementia-related challenges. Learn about training and other ways to get involved here.

3. Find a music therapist

Music therapy is the “clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.”

Michigan Music Therapy maintains a listing of local therapists, along with the services they provide (many work with dementia patients).

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