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How to Spark Memories for People with Dementia

Sarah Stevenson
By Sarah StevensonFebruary 24, 2015

This innovative and creative multimedia scrapbook not only records memories, but also inspires them — all thanks to the power of music, which helps those with memory impairment recall the past and connect with the present.

Using Music to Spark Memories in People with Dementia

When a loved one has Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, cognitive and neurological decline can make it difficult to recognize the person we know so well. In later stages of the disease, loved ones may no longer be able to speak, and they may show few signs of responding to the world around them or the people who love them.

Finding activities for Alzheimer’s patients that prompt a sense of alertness and a “return to themselves” can be priceless for families and caregivers. One possibility that researchers are optimistic about is the use of music — especially familiar, beloved songs — to reawaken memories in those with dementia and other neurological problems. Enter LifeSongs, an innovative product developed by memory care professional Suzanne Lyon. Using personalized music, photos, and other sensory triggers, LifeSongs provides a unique way to capture memories and keep them at hand even for those experiencing cognitive decline.

LifeSongs: Memories and Dementia

At its most basic level, LifeSongs is a memory book that can help seniors and families build a collection of treasured memories to enjoy together. It is far more than simply a scrapbook, though. Harnessing the unique power of music to act as a bridge to the past and a connection to the present, LifeSongs makes it possible to embed voice and music recordings into each of its 12 pages. Along with your collages of photos and mementos, you can personalize a soundtrack that evokes pleasant emotions and cherished memories.

For those with dementia, these memories can bring back a sense of identity and self, helping them connect with important moments in their lives as well as reconnecting them with the present. It can promote a calming mood, reduce stress and may even help them communicate more effectively.

The Science Behind LifeSongs

Music therapy is a growing field of study, and while much of the evidence so far is anecdotal, researchers generally agree that music does trigger memories, sometimes very powerfully. The non-profit Music and Memory, which promotes the use of music therapy for health, did a survey of 26 nursing homes and discovered  that the use of personalized music using iPods decreases problem behaviors and reduces dementia symptoms like anxiety, agitation, sundowning and depression.

“People with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias can respond to music when nothing else reaches them,” said the notable neurologist Oliver Sacks in his 2007 book Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain.

“Even in people with advanced dementia, music can often reawaken personal memories and associations that are otherwise lost.”

There are some potential limitations to the use of music as therapy, of course. Suzanne Hanser, PhD, department chair of music therapy at Berklee College of Music in Boston and former program director of San Francisco’s Alzheimer’s Association, says: “To be most effective, music therapy procedures must be tailored to the individual needs of each person with dementia.” With its recordable pages, LifeSongs enables families to do just that, whether your loved one is moved by Mozart or enlivened by Elvis.

To find out more about LifeSongs and how you can use it for Alzheimer’s care, visit the LifeSongs website, where you can buy your copy through a special offer from A Place for Mom.

Have you used LifeSongs to create a set of family memories? If you’ve successfully used music to connect with a loved one with dementia, we would love to hear about your experiences. Share your story in the comments below.

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Sarah Stevenson
Sarah Stevenson
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