elegant 1930s nightclub with big band

Memorable melodies: harmonious healing

Music can immediately transport us. If I hear Hawaiian music from my youth growing up in Hawaii, I’m immediately transported back to feeling like it’s my senior year of high school. The whole world is in front of me. I’m capable of anything and invincible. Or I can hear certain Rihanna songs and feel like “let’s go to Vegas” ready for a party!

The power of music

Music has so much to do with emotion and specific experiences. It is really powerful – impacting our mood, our motivation levels, and we can use that for good.

Music from our youth, and the emotional moments, like your wedding song or your first dance stay with us forever. These are often the last thing to go for people with dementia. Music is a huge piece of caring for people with dementia.

Music in Alzheimer’s care

This week I had a conversation with a gentleman whose mother and grandmother passed away from Alzheimer’s. He moved his mother into a care facility when she was resistant. The facility told him not to visit for a couple of days to allow her to get settled. Three days later he walked in and she didn’t recognize exactly who he was. She still knew him but didn’t know his name.

He observed her dancing with others, listening to music from her era. She grabbed his hands and said “I love it here.” It was a magical moment for them. He had this sense that she was taken care of. She was in the right place.

Listen to this story

Another touching story shares how musician Adam McKay used music to stay connected with his mother Marti as her Alzheimer’s progressed. She would light up with joy and recognition, whistling along to the amazement of her caregivers.

A study from Northwestern University supports this power of music as a tool for connection. Patients with dementia, often struggling with communication, find solace and connection through music. It acts as a bridge to their loved ones, sparking moments of recognition and shared emotions.

How Marama uses music

At Marama we often have music playing throughout the day. We have music therapy every Sunday with live music once a month. Studies have shown that music therapy can stimulate neural pathways, potentially slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

If  you want to incorporate music therapy, Northwestern Medicine offers these tips:

  • Play music from your loved one’s teenage years or early 20s.
  • Observe your loved one’s response.
  • Use music to soothe.
  • Use as needed. For many people, music is a part of daily life.

The harmonious rhythm of music holds incredible potential in enhancing the lives of those affected by Alzheimer’s disease. Let us continue to harness the power of music as a tool for healing and connection.


Dr. Heather Sandison

P.S. Here are some playlists to incorporate in music therapy:
YouTube Songs From the Old Days (Dementia Care Playlist)

Spotify Calming Music for Alzheimer’s

Spotify The Ultimate Upbeat Playlist for People Living with Dementia

Spotify The Ultimate Calming Playlist for People Living with Dementia