Aging Well

Aging Well

Music & Memory

Posted September 10, 2020 9:24 a.m. EDT

A program that can provide joy at home for those living with dementia

Over time with a dementia diagnosis, one loses their individuality and ability to make choices for themselves. What to eat, wear, when to shower, all of the basic needs become decided for you. One thing that can help a loved one living with dementia retain some choice, is providing them with personalized music. Personalized music is even more impactful than generalized music. Numerous studies have shown that those living with dementia who have personalized music experience decreased agitation and anxiety, as well as improved overall quality of life.

Because our attachment to music comes from a deeper emotional part of the brain, it often solicits responses that someone may not display with just regular interaction. It also empowers the caregiver by providing a meaningful activity for their loved one.  When caregivers are unable to continue to have meaningful conversations with their loved ones, music can be an avenue to connect.

Tips for Making a Personalized Playlist:

  1. Meet them where they are.
    Typically songs from when they were in their 20s & 30s are most ingrained. Use the music assessment questionnaire to find a starting place.
  2. Search lists of top songs from previous years or even decades.
  3. Compile a list of music to test out.
    Compile an active and relaxing playlist with a minimum of 50 songs each and set up a ‘music listening party’.
  4. Use a free music streaming source, YouTube or cd’s & records to test music. Reach out to teenagers for help!
  5. Gauge reactions to songs.
    Are they singing along, foot/hand tapping, dancing, smiling, nodding, swaying, crying, or vocalizing past memories? Hold your reactions as they can often influence.
  6. Download music playlists to mp3 player or other devices.Try different ways to listen including speaker or headphones.

Dementia Alliance of North Carolina’s Music & Memory at Home program also provides music kits to families living with dementia who are still living at home. Trained volunteers engage with families on how to identify beloved music, develop a personalized playlist, and use the Music & Memory at Home Kit, which includes a digital music player uploaded with the person’s favorite music, headphones, a bluetooth speaker and instruction.

For more information about this program, please visit: or learn more in this video.

Heather Hooper is the Executive Director of Dementia Alliance NC.

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