Music keeps memories alive for those living with dementia

By KBJR News 1

February 18, 2014 Updated Feb 19, 2014 at 9:28 AM CDT

Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com) - There is no light at the end of the tunnel for those diagnosed with dementia. The disease has no cure and only worsens with time.

However, hope can be found in music, which can help a person with dementia remember certain parts of their past.

"If you sing a song that they might have danced to in the past, they might remember that and then they will start talking about that," said Melanie Smith, a caretaker at Ecumen Lakeshore in Duluth, "I think it brings them peace of mind."

Smith sings to patients throughout the day, finding that music not only calms them, but can trigger memories. Smith says the part of the brain that recognizes music is one of the last to go when people with dementia lose their memory.

"Most people hear music before they're 18 months old. They've been exposed to it in some form," said Smith, "When their brain is deteriorating, that's one of the last things to go. They might forget to speak, they might forget who they are, how old they are or if they have children, but they will remember the words to 'Jesus Loves Me' or 'You are My Sunshine'."

Rita Walker is the Memory Care Director at Ecumen and says that using music to help people with dementia is a well known practice. Besides helping them remember parts of their past, she says the bigger benefit could be what those memories do for their mood.

"They might not be able to express that [feeling] in words, that 'oh my gosh I feel so much better now that I'm singing a song', but if you watch their body language, we can see that [change in mood]," Walker said, "You just kind of have to unlock that door a little bit. You just have to find the key I guess, to reach them. Music is definitely that key."

The Alzheimer's Association and Mayo Clinic are holding a conference March 1 at the St. Paul River Centre to help people learn more about dementia.

To register for the Meeting of the Minds Dementia Conference click
here .

Written for the web by Jennifer Austin.