In moderate and late-stage dementia, agitation is common. People with more severe stages of dementia may also begin to communicate through behaviors seen as disruptive. Again, music therapy can help.
One 1998 study found that playing preferred music during bath time decreased aggressive behaviors2 in people with dementia. Another study found that people with Alzheimer’s were less agitated during music therapy and for at least 20 minutes after, as observed by both music therapists and caregivers.
This can make the job of a caregiver easier while also offering an opportunity for connection. One of the most heartbreaking aspects of dementia is the possibility that the afflicted will cease to recognize loved ones. Spouses and adult children may find their family roles dissolving as their loved ones recognize them only as caregivers.
But through music, they can connect, even if the person with dementia isn’t aware of the history they share. “It gives a break for that caregiver to just be the person that they used to be in that role,” Belgrave says. “We’re making new memories together instead of just being sad that we can’t operate the way we used to.”
Stewart is currently working with one client to write a love song for his wife. It’s given him an opportunity to reflect on how their relationship has changed over the years and remember how they’ve cared for each other during different times of need. She plans to record the song so that it can continue to serve as a source of connection as his abilities change.
“It’s possible that their partner will not recognize them at times,” Stewart says. “But to have moments, current, that can celebrate who they are together, it’s like cheating time.”
If you’re caring for a loved one with dementia and would like to introduce music into your routine, Belgrave suggests “traveling through music,” by using Tune in radio—a site that allows you to access radio stations from all over the world. You can also visit a site called Timeslips, which offers a music-based storytelling experience. Lastly, if you’re hoping to use music to disrupt agitation, Belgrave suggests noting common times that agitation occurs and beginning to play music 30 to 60 minutes beforehand.