Does music help aggressive behavior in dementia patients?

Generally speaking, most individuals with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia respond well to music. Music is known as “the international language” and can be very helpful in many therapy endeavors. Of course, responses depend greatly on the individual, the Alzheimer’s stage — and sometimes even to the degree the person liked (or didn’t like) music previously. Then, there’s also the issue of what kind of music is to be played.

There is a stereotype that seniors will like only “old music,” or music that was popular when they were much younger. But that is an unnecessarily narrow view. Any music from the time of their birth to the present day is “from their era.” Too often when working with people with Alzheimer’s, or seniors in general, we think too narrowly of possibilities.

If you play music for a loved one with dementia and it doesn’t appear to be helping, try a different kind of music. Almost any genre of music — including classical — can feel hectic or stressed. This can over stimulate someone with weak defenses. Then, it ironically could become a case of causing more anxiety or agitation, rather than soothing it. Individuals with dementia can’t always say how they’re feeling, so the next step might be to act out. Therefore, closely monitor what is played, and what works.

Music or recordings that can be described as “white noise” are often soothing to individuals with Alzheimer’s. While “white noise” machines can be purchased, just running a fan or being somewhere near a bubbling fountain also could help your loved one relax.

You also can find CDs or other recordings with calming sounds of the wind, the ocean or birds, though you will want to observe whether any bird sounds become over-stimulating. If they do and start to create agitation, just turn off the recording.

Just like other people, sometimes individuals with Alzheimer’s want and need silence. So when all else appears to fail, try some peace and quiet!

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