Music Therapy and Dementia: Tips for a Creating a Music Playlist

April 1, 2023 | Memory Support
Tips for Creating Playlists, Dementia Care, Memory Care

American singer Billy Joel once said, “I think music in itself is healing. It’s an explosive expression of humanity. It’s something we are all touched by.” Whether you need a mood boost or motivation during a challenging time, it goes without saying that music is compelling and has the potential to inspire and uplift us.

If you’ve ever been strongly affected by a piece of music, it’s because of the salience network in the brain. The salience network is the brain hub that decides which catalysts or stimulants deserve attention and guides the brain to a response.

The same is true for those living with dementia. While dementia progressively causes the decline of the brain’s abilities, such as memory, decision-making and judgment. However, researchers have found that the salience network is still functional even during the later stages of dementia. Essentially, music that evokes emotion can ignite memories in those living with dementia, allowing them to recall things from their past.

Astral at Auburn’s memory care community in Auburn, Indiana, supports families impacted by dementia through educational resources and exceptional memory care services. We’re sharing tips for creating a playlist for a person living with dementia and explaining the link between music therapy and dementia.

Ways to Create a Playlist

Today’s music streaming services make it easy for users to create unique playlists rather than click around from song to song or sift through different albums to find a specific track. Here are a few options to get you started:

  • Spotify: A music streaming platform with over 30 million songs in its library, which can be played on a mobile device or computer desktop. If you are going to utilize this service, set up a paid subscription so that your loved one can enjoy ad-free listening. While Spotify does have a free version, it features ads and commercials which can distract your loved one from the music.
  • Apple Music: This music and video streaming service was developed by Apple and is available on all Apple products; if you have an iPhone, the app is already on your phone. Each subscription begins with a free trial, so you can see if you enjoy the platform before committing. 
  • YouTube: YouTube has millions of music and lyric videos by famous artists and up-and-coming musicians, culminating in a unique listening experience that can expand anyone’s musical palette. Like Spotify, the free version of the website has advertisements between videos, but the paid subscription allows users to watch ad-free. 

What Songs Should I Add to the Playlist?

When making a playlist for your loved one living with dementia, think of the songs that make up the soundtrack of their life.

  • Do they have a favorite song they know all of the words to? 
  • What song was played during their first dance at their wedding? 
  • Do they have a favorite artist? 

Keep these things in mind when choosing music, and pick the songs associated with their most important, special and uplifting moments and memories. 

According to Playlist for Life, a music therapy and dementia charity based in the UK, three key concepts can be helpful when searching for the right music for your loved one’s playlist:

Age 10-30 or “The Memory Bump”

Otherwise known as the Reminiscence Bump, the Memory Bump is the idea that we create more memories between the ages of 10-30 than at any other point in our lives. In fact, researchers have found that there is a tendency for middle-aged and elderly adults to access more personal memories from their experiences that occurred during this age range. 

This is a great place to start while searching for songs. Think about the era of their teenage or early adult years, and try researching the music charts from that time. Even if a certain song isn’t necessarily their favorite, it might bring back memories of hearing it over the radio in their younger years.

Inheritance Tracks

Everybody has inherited songs or artists from friends, family or other people in some way or another. Whether your father passed down his favorite music to you or the clerk at a music store recommended an album that you might enjoy, there are many people to thank for shaping your music taste.

  • Who were the important people in your loved one’s life, and how might they have shaped their musical interests? 
  • Does their partner or spouse have a favorite song they play often? 
  • Did they attend concerts with friends with whom they shared a favorite artist? 

Identity Tracks

While music has the potential to shape our most memorable life moments, it also has the potential to shape our identities as well. The place where you grew up, the “groups” you belong to and even your personality can shape the music you associate with. 

For instance, if your loved one grew up in the South, they might have a love of country or bluegrass music. If they were a teenager in the 1950s, they might have associated themselves with the rock and roll styles of the time. If they supported a specific sports team in college or their adult years, the team’s fight anthem is probably held close to their heart. 

After creating your playlist, spend some time with your loved one as a trial run, and play each song to see if there is any reaction. Remember that music therapy and dementia can easily evoke negative emotions just as they can bring back positive memories. If this is the case, remove the song from the playlist and continue to keep an eye out for any triggering songs that bring up unhappy memories.

Astral at Auburn is where life begins again. Memory care in Auburn, Indiana, is here to serve as your family’s support system and guide to navigating this journey. We invite you to visit our website or contact us online to learn how our community can benefit your family.

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