Music and Dementia Care

Click "Blooming with Boomers" to view event details and schedule. 

The Washington Home Care Association was formed in 2005 and Sound Options is a proud member of this organization which seeks to advance the field of private duty home care in Washington State and support other member home care agencies. Sound Options is excited to participate in the 2014 WAHCA conference with the theme:  “Blooming with the Boomers”. It is going to be a time to gather to share information, inspirational moments, network, and think about how to grow in an environment of multiple challenges. The Baby Boomer tsunami is on its way. As home care professionals, our preparation for the increased demand of home care services is crucial to our success. We must have skilled staff to provide services and solutions to address the ever-changing environment of health care all while providing care that ensures a high quality of life and safety in the client’s home.

Owner, Mary Lynn Pannen RN, BSN, CCM has been serving as the president of this organization for 2014. She will be speaking at the conference on the role of music in dementia care. For those of you that cannot make it to the conference, here is a brief overview:  

Music and Dementia

Seeing a loved one slowly fade, memory by memory, can be heartbreaking for family to witness and devastating for the individual with dementia. Music has offered many families a back door into the mind and a new chance to connect with their loved ones. The brain is an amazing organ that helps us problem solve, houses our words and language, regulates our emotions, and our motor control. While brain diseases ravage the areas of the brain that control these functions, music still can engage parts of the brain that are usually untouched by the disease that preserve automatic language. With an individual with dementia, the disease removes language filters for forbidden words and preserves automatic language. This can arise as one of the difficult behaviors that are symptoms of dementia including, swearing, racial slurs, unfiltered comments. The positive side of this phenomenon is that music can take advantage of this preserved part of the mind to connect with family, bring back memories and the emotions associated with those memories. Song lyrics from songs that were very important to the person are most effective such as hymns, patriotic music, songs from their dating years, etc.

Music can be an important tool for the caregiver as it can be used to redirect a person with dementia when they are exhibiting other difficult behaviors such as wandering, sadness, repeated questions, refusing care, etc. Music can also help change the tone of a difficult task like a shower, meal, doctor appointment, etc. With some individuals with dementia, it can even be helpful to sing directions and instructions rather than speaking them. While the individual may suffer from brain loss in the sections of their brain that handle word processing and meaning making, caregivers can focus on the parts of the brain that they do still have.

Quality of life is a huge component of any kind of dementia care. How do we meet basic needs, how do we still connect with people, how do we incorporate identity into care and make people feel like themselves, how do we care for the spirit of those suffering from the isolating components of the disease? The use of music touches on many of the social, mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional needs of each individual.

If you are interested in making a playlist for your loved one, here are a few tips to consider:

  • Choose music with a strong connection.
  • Keep it Simple: Both the device and the music should be simple and easy to use/ hear even with hearing aid devices.
  • Be Patient:You may not have a breakthrough each time you use the music
  • Keep it Special: Don’t have music playing all the time. Music and Memory recommends using it for just 30 minutes 1-2 times a day.

  For more information about WAHCA, click the logo. 


Published on September 17, 2014.