Dementia: Teepa Snow Shares Advice on Connecting Through Music

Music can be highly beneficial when it comes to treating those with dementia. Here, Teepa Snow explains how to connect to those battling dementia through music.
dementia music

Teepa Snow, one of WayWiser’s Trusted Advisors, is passionate about educating people on what dementia is, and also what it’s not. This includes exploring brain changes.

She’s devoted her life to raising awareness about this often misunderstood condition, and is driven to promote quality of life for those with dementia, and for their loved ones and caregivers. 

Because Teepa recognizes—dementia doesn’t only impact the life of the person who has it. It also deeply affects the lives of their families and loved ones. 

If you have a loved one who you suspect or know to be experiencing dementia, educating yourself about this condition is a crucial step in effectively navigating it. 

Thankfully, Teepa has helpful information and tips for those dealing with this complex issue.

If you haven’t yet watched or read Teepa’s Dementia 101 article, you can find that here.

If you’re in the trenches of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia, you know it’s not easy. Watching the disease progress—seeing the person forget loved ones and unable to complete tasks they once did without worry—is emotionally challenging. Helping the person get dressed In the morning and bathe each night can take a toll physically, too.

But there are still ways to connect and find joy together. One evidence-based tool to relax, have fun, and move with your loved one or friend with Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia is through music, according to Teepa Snow, MS, OTR/L, FAOTA, an occupational therapist who specializes in dementia care and dementia education. 

Why? Music is a retained skill. Even as someone may struggle to remember where they left their keys or what year it is, they can still understand rhythm and song. Listening or moving to music together can give both of you a sense of normalcy as the disease runs its course and new challenges arise.

Snow recommends doing music-based activities twice per day with a person with Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia. Here’s what to know about finding a connection through music while caring for someone with Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia.

Use Music Purposefully

music can be wonderful for dementia patients

Your loved one may have always looked forward to the Sunday crossword puzzle in their favorite newspaper is no longer able to do one. Perhaps they can — with a bit of help from music. 

You can create a crossword puzzle or find one in a newspaper or online. The New York Times Mini crossword is a great one if you’re looking for something relatively quick and simple. Go over the clues. Read them to the person. Then, give them an extra hint by singing a song that has the answer as the last word. For example, if the word is sweetheart, you could sing lyrics from Bing Crosby’s hit “Let Me Call You Sweetheart.”

This activity gets the person’s brain working and allows them to reclaim something they once loved. It’s also engaging and a way for the two of you to have fun together.

Music for Self-Care and Leisure

music is great for self care, particularly for those with dementia or alzheimer's

Listening to music is a way to create energy in a room.

Here’s why: Music guides the limbic system, helping people become aroused or calm.

Think about it: We often play music while working out, and it can help us get that last rep in or hit a new PR. It gets people out of their chairs at parties to dance. It also helps people wind down. What do we often play for babies when it’s time for bed? Soothing lullabies. The same applies to people of all ages.

What’s more, Snow says passive listening allows our brains to organize information, relax and find enjoyment in life. 

If you’re struggling to energize or soothe a person with Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia, consider breaking out a playlist of music that fits the mood you’re trying to build. 

Fast-paced songs can get people moving, even if they’re in a wheelchair. Pick something they know and you’re more likely to get a reaction. In fact, there are some new products out there, like Vera, which help you tailor playlists to what an older adult grew up with, sparking a wonderful response.

Start with the upper body. Have them move their hands or heads to the beat. Then work your way to the lower body. They can tap their wheels on the floor. If they don’t respond to the tune, try calling the person by their name to draw their attention to them. 

Do the same when it’s time to calm them down, but with familiar songs that are slower-paced. Have them breathe deeply and focus on their breath. It’s also good for you as a caregiver to find that moment of peace.

Music Is a Message

Even when we aren’t singing or playing a tune, we speak in a rhythm that delivers a message. For example, when we are angry, we may speak quickly and loudly. If we’re feeling joy, we may slow down a bit as we take in the happy moment. That will show in our voice. Consider this fact as you try to relay messages to a loved one as the disease progresses.

Dementia and Music: The Bottom Line

the bottom line about dementia and music

Music truly is medicine, and it’s a retained skill in people with Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia. People continue to understand music, remember old tunes, and take the rhythm and tone of voice as a message of how someone is feeling. This retention is a gift during an otherwise challenging time for caregivers, families, and individuals with Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia.

One expert suggests doing music-based activities at least twice a day to help with various activities. There are many ways to use a good tune or playlist. You can use it to help the person get exercise or solve a puzzle. 

Music engages the brain, gets people moving, calms them down, and sends a message. If nothing else, music allows the caregiver and person to find a similar connection. It’s a way to find a few minutes of happiness during a difficult time for you and your loved one.

Further Reading

Dementia 101: Teepa Snow Explores Important Facts to Know About This Complex Issue

Dementia: Teepa Snow Explores Challenging Behaviors

Dementia: Teepa Snow Explores Brain Changes

Dementia: Teepa Snow Shares Advice for Meaningful Activities

Have another question? Ask an expert.

Our team is here for you. If you have a question about caring for an older adult or other member of your family—be it physical, legal, medical, financial, or anything in between—we’ll have one of our Trusted Advisors get back to you ASAP.

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