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Alzheimer’s therapy: Music, art and more

There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but as well as treatments to manage symptoms, music and art therapy may be recommended to help a person maintain their quality of life.

Seek medical advice about whether music or art therapy is available locally, and whether it might be beneficial.

Music as Alzheimer’s therapy

Music has many benefits as an Alzheimer’s therapy. It may help by:

  • Soothing an agitated person
  • Sparking memories
  • Engaging the mind even in the disease’s later stages
  • Improving eating in some cases.

Here are some tips for using music therapy to help your loved one:

  • Golden oldies spark memories. Songs from the person’s youth often spark the most memories. In the later stages of Alzheimer’s disease, you may have to go back to songs learned in childhood. Encourage sing-a-longs. Try using a karaoke machine.
  • Toe-tapping beats stimulate activity. Up-tempo dance tunes can help stimulate both mental and physical activity. Encourage dancing, if possible.
  • Easy listening can be soothing. Soothing music can help ease the anxiety and frustration felt by many people with Alzheimer’s disease. For example, lullabies at bedtime can help your loved one get into bed and fall asleep.

A person with Alzheimer’s disease may not be able to verbally communicate their likes and dislikes. Rely on other clues such as facial expressions to help you learn which songs are a hit and which aren’t. Ask friends or relatives for suggestions about the types of music or particular songs the person used to enjoy.

Art as an Alzheimer’s therapy

Painting, drawing and other forms of art can help people with Alzheimer’s disease express themselves. Expression through art can become especially important as a person’s ability to communicate through words deteriorates.

Here’s how to get your loved one engaged in this Alzheimer’s therapy:

  • Picture the past. Encourage a project that tells a story or evokes a memory. The project can be something that you can talk about together, both while the work is in progress and after it is finished.
  • Free form. Keep instructions to a minimum to avoid confusion and frustration. Then, step out of the way as the work takes shape. If necessary, get things started by painting the first few brush strokes yourself to remind your loved one how it is done. Don’t forget that the picture is done when the person says it’s done, whether you think so or not. As Alzheimer’s progresses the ability to create art may be lost, but you can continue to view art together and talk about it. Try to choose works that might hold a particular meaning with your loved one.
  • Don’t be a critic. If you don’t care for the colours chosen, keep it to yourself! Positive feedback and questions that encourage interaction are the best contributions you can make.
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