The Healing Power of Music for Alzheimer’s

Music brings back very specific memories for Alzheimer’s residents.

I cranked the volume on the Internet 70’s station my wife had programmed into her car. Music from my teens bellowed throughout the SUV. I tried to sing along to songs from Badfinger and Bachman Turner Overdrive, only getting about 20% of the lyrics correct.

Then Cher came on and sang Dark Lady. I had remembered playing this song on the jukebox at a diner where I was a janitor. I would go into the lunch counter on nights and weekends with my best friend blast the place with music for three hours while we cleaned. The owner didn’t care, he paid us $2 an hour and all the sandwiches we could eat while we were there. It was 1974, I was 15 and this seemed like a swell job. We made the greatest concoction of sandwiches ever. The best one was ham, turkey, roast beef, cheddar cheese, mayo and sweet pickles. That was our go-to sandwich for a starving 15 year old.

As I mouthed the words…”Dark Lady laughed and danced and lit the candles…….” a funny thing happened, I starting tasting my “go to sandwich”, my brain had connected the two events. It was like I had tricked it to go back 38 years. I started remembering intricate details that I hadn’t thought about in years. I saw the extra dirty mop heads that should of been thrown out but the owner was too cheap to buy new ones. I saw the dark grime in the corners of the men’s bathroom that would never come out no matter how much I scrubbed. I was back in the summer of 1974.

Music has such a powerful impact on the brain. It can literally transport us to another dimension and time. This has such extreme benefit to people suffering from dementia.

During a Veteran’s Day Celebration when I was a young administrator in an assisted living community I played the Caisson Song in our Alzheimer’s wing. Charles was a 78 year old man suffering from late stage Alzheimer’s. Given the pictures in his room, one could conclude that he fought in WWII and was probably in the infantry. He had diminished to the point where he didn’t walk very well anymore and barely spoke.

When the music came on, Charles smiled and stood up and saluted the staff then started marching around the wing, knees high, every once in a while turning his head and giving a sharp salute to those he passed.

We had tricked Charles’ brain. We had transported him to a time where he didn’t have dementia. We had done the one thing we should all look to do when caring for dementia residents. We brought him that One Moment of Joy.


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