Music can benefit patients living with dementia and Alzheimer’s



Skolnick’s grandmother dances to Czech Polka songs at a recent wedding.

Sam Skolnick

My grandmother, Cleanor Skolnick, was diagnosed with dementia seven years ago, and she slowly has begun to forget memories, places and even me. Yet, there is one thing that she always seems to remember, the old Czech Polka songs that she sang and danced to throughout her life.

Both dementia and Alzheimer’s disease cause memory loss, however, music has the power to benefit many patients. According to the Mayo Clinic, the area in the brain for musical memories is left untouched by the diseases. This means that a memory of a specific person may be harder for a patient to remember, compared to the memory of their favorite song’s lyrics.

Junior Gina Dige of Howell shared that she had witnessed a case over the internet in which this had happened. 

“I’ve actually seen a lot of videos where patients can play the piano perfectly or even remember the steps to their ballet routine just by playing the music. It’s fascinating to see them thrive while they listen or while they play,” Dige said. “I have seen patients smile at the music, especially music they listened to as a kid or an adult before they lost their memory.”

Listening to or playing music also helps relieve side effects of dementia and Alzheimer’s, including stress, anxiety and depression.

In a National Center for Biotechnology Information study, researchers found that the effects of depression were reduced when music was introduced to the patient. Music such as classical and lullabies are typically used, especially when a patient becomes anxious before going to sleep.

Music therapy often helps people suffering from these illnesses and even those who are just dealing with the effects of aging. Inspiring patients to hum or sing is a way to help with cognitive abilities such as talking. It is one of the best ways to help patients communicate, even when they may be nonverbal, and it can improve the quality of life for many, especially those who may not see many people, such as patients at nursing homes during the pandemic.

Anyone who has a family member who suffers from dementia knows what it is like to watch them forget, and one of the worst fears being that they will forget you. Yet, with music therapy patients can be themselves.

“Music is so powerful in so many ways and it’s incredible to see it bring someone completely back like that, even for a moment,” Dige said.