Using Music to Enhance Dementia Care, Part 1

We’ve used the healing power of music with my Mom since the start of her disease. It boosted her mood when she was depressed about her dementia diagnosis and calmed her as she struggled with delusions. More than 1.5 million people have seen the video of Henry, an inert nursing home resident, who comes to life when he hears tunes he loves. It’s truly impressive. But the amazing thing about music is its power to solve new problems as dementia evolves.

Between the Pond and the Woods

When movement became difficult for my mom, we used old rock and roll songs like Rock Around the Clock and At the Hop to get her dancing in place and boost her circulation. These days she can’t stand up to dance, but we’ve found that music is still a powerful tool in the management of her care.

For the past six months, my mother’s ability to walk has been impaired by a mysterious wound on her ankle that hasn’t responded to treatment. This month Mom started getting care at a hyperbaric wound center. The new healing process has reduced her pain and made it easier for her to take the few steps needed to get from the wheelchair to her bed. Then one night I discovered that these few steps went more smoothly if we played music while she took them.

It was a simple observation with profound implications. Now, we get her up each evening to walk (very) slowly through the kitchen before we get her ready for bed. If we play jazzy music with a strong beat, she seems to forget all about the mechanics of walking. Her lifelong connection with rhythm and dance helps her move her feet confidently toward her destination. When we guide her carefully and move with the rhythm of the song, she even seems to enjoy walking. In fact, she can go about ten times as far when a favorite tune is playing.

You may not realize the significance of this nightly walk if you’re caring for someone in the early phases of dementia. But if you start using this powerful tool early in the game to help a loved one enhance their mobility, you may be able to employ it to overcome difficult challenges in the future. Find a song they love and make (legal) copies of it. Then you can invoke the power of music when and where it helps most!

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