By Christy Feuerstahler, Valley VNA music coordinator

Music therapy for people with Alzheimer’s or dementia is powerful because a person’s rhythmic response is tied to the motor center of the brain that requires little or no cognitive or mental processing. It’s fair to say our human response to music, particularly drumming or singing, is almost primitive.

Researchers have shown that people with Alzheimer’s or dementia who engage in music therapy are often able to respond powerfully to music, even in the late stages of the disease. I’ve been playing or teaching music most of my life, and now I bring music into the gathering spaces at Valley VNA through some very special programs.

Lyrics & Laughter

Lyrics and Laughter Life Enrichment Activity

Lyrics & Laughter is an offshoot of a program from the U.K. called Singing for the Brain. It’s a 45-60 minute participatory weekly music program for people with dementia that goes beyond passive listening to singing, instruments, and actions. We gather in a circle, and that cue helps focus our participants. What follows is a session of warm-ups, hello songs, rounds, rhythms, and thematic tunes in topics like the Old West, patriotism, or Irish folk tunes. Residents can join us every week, and community members can sign up for our special 6-week sessions for the general public. Caregivers enjoy sharing in the songs, too, because music is a fantastic way to bond with one another.

Music and Memory

Music and Memory Alzheimer's activity

Music and Memory is an iPod listening program developed for residents whose families have helped develop playlists of their favorite songs. It’s a very personal collection of songs that helps people in need of sensory stimulation. Earphone splitters allow a resident and a family member to experience the music together. We see people hold hands, dance, smile, sing, or simply get a sparkle in their eyes when their very special music starts. One time as I was sitting with an otherwise nonverbal resident, she heard her songs and began speaking to me, and even complimented the blouse I was wearing. Research shows that music can help elicit speech in people with advanced dementia, if even for a short time.

Choosing Tunes for Music & Memory

  • Songs from the person’s young adult years, from about age 18-25, are the most likely to elicit engagement, such as dancing, toe-tapping, and happy facial expressions.
  • People with late stage dementia often respond to childhood folk songs, especially sung in the language in which they were learned

Drum Circles

Drum Circle

Our drum circles are a very good fit for people with Alzheimer’s and dementia who can tolerate the loud drumming because it taps into their rhythmic instinct. We have enough homemade drums for each person to join in.

Plug in into the Valley VNA music program. We welcome everyone to our community offerings. Simply call (920) 727-5555 to register or learn more.