Music and Music Therapy for Alzheimer’s & Dementia Patients July 16 2014

Alzheimer’s therapies that draw on individual interests through structured activities can be beneficial. Many memory-care facilities regularly use music as therapy and recreation because many Alzheimer's and dementia patients can remember and sing songs even in the advanced stages of the disease. A person’s ability to engage in music—particularly the ability to tap to a beat or sing lyrics to a song—remains intact because music activities do not require cognitive functioning for success. Music provides a way to connect, even after verbal communication has become difficult.

In addition to bringing Alzheimer’s patients therapeutic benefits and pleasure, many people may associate particular selections of music with an important experience or event. The connection can be so strong that hearing a song or a tune long after the occurrence can evoke a memory of it. There is also growing evidence that listening to music can elevate moods, reduce agitation, stimulate interactions, maintain cognitive function, and coordinate motor functions.

It is difficult to predict an individual’s response to a particular selection of music. A song or a tune that is soothing to one person may remind another person of a sad or traumatic event in their life. A person with Alzheimer’s disease may not be able to verbally communicate his or her likes and dislikes. Therefore, rely on other clues such as facial expressions to monitor a person’s reaction to an individual piece of music and discontinue it if it evokes distress or agitation.

When introducing music to an Alzheimer’s patient’s daily routine, consider these guidelines:

  • If known, listen to music that the person liked in the past. If possible, let the person choose the music.
  • Use music to create a desired mood. For example, easy listening can be soothing and can help create a calm environment, while faster-paced, up-tempo songs may boost energy levels.
  • Choose a source of music that isn't interrupted by commercials, which may cause confusion.
  • Avoid distractions. Reduce noises by shutting the windows and doors and turning off the television.  
  • Encourage movement (clapping, drumming, or dancing). Toe-tapping beats can help stimulate both mental and physical activity in Alzheimer's patients.

When compiling a playlist for a person living with memory loss, consider pieces from the individual’s young adult years (ages 18 to 25). They are most likely to have the strongest connections and provide the greatest opportunities for engagement. Also, consider asking friends or relatives for suggestions about the types of music or particular songs the person used to enjoy. If you are unable to identify music that’s familiar to the person, experiment with various types or consider a collection of old favorites.

Below is a list of the top songs from the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s: 

Top Songs of the 1930s:

  • Over The Rainbow by Judy Garland
  • Minnie The Moocher by Cab Calloway
  • Summertime by Sidney Bechet
  • Back In The Saddle Again by Gene Autry
  • Begin The Beguine by Artie Shaw Orchestra
  • A Tisket A Tasket by Ella Fitzgerald
  • Puttin' On The Ritz by Harry Richman
  • Pennies From Heaven by Bing Crosby
  • On The Good Ship Lollipop by Shirley Temple
  • Wabash Cannonball by Roy Acuff

 Top Songs of the 1940s:

  • This Land Is Your Land by Woody Guthrie
  • Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy by The Andrews Sisters
  • You Are My Sunshine by Jimmie Davis
  • In The Mood by Glenn Miller Orchestra
  • Take The 'A' Train by Duke Ellington
  • God Bless America by Kate Smith
  • Stormy Weather by Lena Horne
  • 'Round Midnight by Thelonius Monk
  • When You Wish Upon A Star by Cliff Edwards
  • Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah by Johnny Mercer

Top Songs of the 1950s:

  • Hound Dog by Elvis Presley
  • Jailhouse Rock by Elvis Presley
  • Heartbreak Hotel by Elvis Presley
  • Johnny B. Goode by Chuck Berry
  • Mystery Train by Elvis Presley
  • Maybellene by Chuck Berry
  • That’ll Be The Day by Buddy Holly and the Crickets
  • Happy Trails by Roy Rogers & Dale Evans
  • That’s All Right by Elvis Presley
  • Blueberry Hill by Fats Domino

Top Songs of the 1960s:

  • Suspicious Minds by Elvis Presley
  • Yesterday by The Beatles
  • Hey Jude by The Beatles
  • Can't Help Falling In Love by Elvis Presley
  • Unchained Melody by The Righteous Brothers
  • (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction by The Rolling Stones
  • Stand By Me by Ben E. King
  • Oh, Pretty Woman by Roy Orbison
  • Sugar, Sugar by The Archies
  • The Twist by Chubby Checker

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