Four Tips on How to Use Background Music for Alzheimer’s Patients

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iStock_000017693788XSmall1-200x300.jpg“Music has charms to soothe a savage breast,” wrote poet William Congreve.  Those caregivers who work with Alzheimer’s patients know that music can also be a valuable aid in helping to set a mood or to encourage certain kinds of behaviors in those in various stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Using background music may be particularly helpful.

Background music is by nature unobtrusive, but it can make unconscious, subtle impressions upon its listeners.  Clearly, the inventors of Muzak knew this and the fact that so many places, from department stores to doctors’ offices, use background music indicates its effectiveness.

Here are a few tips on how to use background music to help your loved one with Alzheimer’s.

Know what musical selections are likely to be familiar. For the most part, the effective use of background music involves selecting songs that do not already have strong associations, positive or negative, for the listener.  If the music you select has special meaning for the listener, he or she may become caught up in the associations that the tune brings up and may not be motivated to react in the way you desire.

Select music that is likely to bring about the desired reaction. If you want to help keep your loved one awake, a soothing lullaby is unlikely to do the trick; something in a march tempo or with a lively beat may be a better bet.  On the other hand, if your goal is to relax your charge so that he or she is in a better frame of mind for a doctor’s visit or can drift off to sleep more easily, that disco medley may not work.

Repetition can be a plus or a minus. Using the same set of songs to ease Mom off to sleep may make the going-to-bed experience more comforting and familiar.  On the other hand, some patients may become so used to the music that they want to stay awake and listen to it, which defeats the purpose of the music.  Monitor reactions and see if your particular loved one falls into one or the other of these categories and act accordingly.

Share your secrets. If the use of background music, and especially of specific songs in specific situations, becomes routine and expected, make sure anyone who shares caregiving duties or who temporarily relieves you of your duties knows about this.  If you have the opportunity to go out for a dinner and a movie, you don’t want a frantic call from your sister because Dad won’t take a bath because he misses his bathtub tunes.

Music is a big part of many people’s lives.  Just because it may be shuffled to the background doesn’t mean it can’t be utilized to help you make life a little easier for your loved one with Alzheimer’s – and for you.

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