Use music to completely change the day of someone with dementia

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It was really challenging to get Kayla ready in the morning. She didn’t want to eat, dress, or even—really—get out of bed at all. Her family was becoming exhausted with the “morning routine” since it took a long time when she was sleepy. One day, Kayla’s daughter had put on some music in the background to keep her own spirits up while dressing her mom. To her surprise, however, it worked in an unintended way: it woke Kayla up more than usual AND put her in a good mood! From that day forward, the family started piping music into the room before they even got Kayla out of bed. 

I very often use music when I’m designing a room for a senior living company. It really brings residents into the space, which always surprises staff who haven’t seen residents “go in there before.” I find that spaces often become almost like wallpaper to many people with dementia: they just stop noticing things when they aren’t novel. 

Here are some ways to use music:

  • Wake people up in a good mood
  • Encourage eating at mealtimes with background music 
  • Encourage sleep with slow tunes
  • Get someone excited about exercise with dance music
  • Encourage people to enter a previously-unused room by piping music into it
  • Use it as a timer for things like teeth-brushing
  • Play someone’s favorite artist in the bathroom while starting a shower

I’m sure you can think of many, many more uses for music in dementia caregiving. 

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Rachael Wonderlin has a Master’s in Gerontology and is the author of two published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. She owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting company.

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