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At home caregivers who have a family member with dementia know that finding ways to keep the memory active and to facilitate communication is crucial. Those who do not do so already may want to look into the possibility of music therapy as a new approach to aid in memory functionality.

Music therapy is used in many conditions beyond Alzheimer’s and dementia. Former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who suffered serious damage from a gunshot wound to the brain, utilized music therapy as one way to regain her ability to speak. For those dementia, music therapy often an effective tool in improving cognitive function. It can also act as an effective spur to recovering memories or helping a patient to remember current activities and events.

Music therapy can make a difference.

Several studies indicate that music can be used as a way of improving cognitive function in people with dementia. In one study, patients who underwent three weekly one-hour sessions of music therapy for 10 months improved their cognitive function scores by 50%.

Alicia Clair, former director of Kansas University’s music therapy program, has worked with many dementia patients. In a recent article in the Lawrence World-Journal, she related how music provided a touching experience for one couple. The husband no longer recognized his wife; however, when big band music was played, he approached her, took her in his arms and danced with her, just as he had done when the two were younger.

Henry, a late-stage dementia patient, provides another example of how music therapy can impact a person with dementia. While he is normally unresponsive to those around him, when he listens to music through a pair of headphones, he becomes lively and engaged. He is then capable of communicating with others for a period of time after the headphones are removed.

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A recent article on Palo Alto Online relates how one dementia patient tended to repeat the same joke over and over, as often as 30 times in one hour. After listening to the song “As Time Goes By,” however, his memory was stirred and he was able to move beyond his repeated joke to talking about having been in World War II himself.

Caregivers can try modified music therapy at home. While professional music therapists are ideal for working with dementia patients in a thorough, focused manner, individual caregivers can also incorporate aspects of music therapy into their daily care routine.

Choose the right music.

What type of music is likely to prompt a response in your loved one? You may be able to find this out by talking to your loved one about specific songs or styles of music that he or she remembers. If not, search your own or family member’s memories for clues. If nothing comes to mind, you can always try experimenting with various types. Play some tunes that seem likely to prompt a response and make note if any of them do seem to strike a particular chord.

Choose the right place and time.

It’s best to try out music when there are no other distractions. Find a time when you and your loved one are in a restful, comfortable location with no other distractions (TV, computer, noisy neighbors, etc.) It’s better to go with selections that you yourself choose, rather than a radio station, as the commercials may break the mood or prove too much of a distraction.

Choose your expectations.

Make sure your expectations are realistic. There may be no response to your efforts with music, or the response may be minimal. That’s okay. Sometimes you may get a big response; other days there may be nothing. That’s okay, too. Even if there is only slight engagement, it is worth trying to see what happens. As a bonus, it gives you an opportunity to enjoy some music yourself.

Our HomeHero staff is an excellent resource for discussing music therapy. They will be able to help you locate professional music therapists if you would like to investigate this option. Start finding new ways to explore music while caring for your loved one with dementia. Make sure you contact HomeHero for any assistance you may need.

What struggles have you experienced when working with a loved one who suffers from dementia? Send us your thoughts on Twitter @HomeHero or share a comment of Facebook!

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