Using Performance to Help People with Alzheimer’s and Dementia

February 23, 2014 Caroleeena Dancehealthmental healthPerformance

Music Therapy

I recently sculpted a fire performance for a group of 80-somethings. For this performance, I chose happy songs that were popular in the 30’s & 40’s. I did this because I know many of our elders are affected by Alzheimer’s and/or dementia and I have read that familiar music from when we were 18-25 requires little to no cognitive or mental processing to recall and can facilitate cognitive function as well as shift mood, calm stress-induced agitation, and coordinate motor movements–even in people with very late stage Alzheimer’s. It is more than nostalgic, it promotes healing that lasts well after the musical exposure has ended. It was a little risky as I couldn’t know what each person’s associations with a song might be but I deliberately chose happy songs that might recall happy times rather than wistful or sad songs that are often the songs that resonate with us during the sad times in our lives. The people I performed for really loved it! One person came up to me and said, “I feel so happy! I feel like I will be happy for the next two weeks.” Seriously! Someone said that! That is exactly what I was hoping for and nothing could have made me happier.

musicThe key is to select songs from when your audience was 18-25. If your audience is in their 80’s, this means the 30’s and 40’s. I also included a couple of songs from the 50’s and a few newer versions of old songs for diversity. Familiar songs were what I was going for but some unfamiliar songs were also included to create relaxation and set the mood. Their gathering was luau themed so I tried to keep that in mind while making selections and it was a fire show so I included fire elements as well. Here are the songs I selected:

  • Fascinating Rhythm – Sol Hoopii
  • Accentuate the Positive – Johnny Mercer & The Pied Pipers
  • Over the Rainbow – Israel Kamakawiwo’Ole
  • Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy – Andrews Sisters
  • The Lion Sleeps Tonight – The Tokens
  • In The Mood – Bette Midler
  • Minnie The Moocher – Cab Calloway
  • The Glory of Love – Benny Goodman
  • Kiss of Fire – Georgia Gibbs
  • Hawaiian War Chant – Satin Dollz & Pin Up Dancers
  • Three Little Fishes – The Smoothies
  • Shut Eye – Benny Goodman with Martha Tilton

I considered and then decided against the song “Sentimental Journey”. It’s a great song and lots of people love it but it was often played at weddings, parties, and goodbye gatherings when people were leaving to fight in the war. It probably has good associations for most people but it could have upsetting associations and I didn’t want to risk upsetting anyone with this sojourn into their past.

Google and YouTube were my friend when it came to picking out songs. I googled “Top Forty” and “1939” for example to get a list of songs that were popular then and then I looked them up on YouTube to listen to them. It was a bit time consuming but fun and worth it. The time consuming aspect is why I am sharing this list now, to help others who might want to craft healing dances along these lines.

For many people, especially here in the south, the music they were most exposed to in their youth may have been religious music. To find this, search on “gospel music” or “religious music” and the year.

This is a link to an absolutely wonderful article on music therapy for people with Alzheimer’s and dementia. It’s from the Alzheimer’s Foundation’s, which has a lot of good information on this site. If you read nothing else though, I really recommend this quick and interesting read:

This is a heart-warming and inspiring video that shows the effect of music therapy on a sweet man who seemed to be lost inside himself before it:

2 Responses to “Using Performance to Help People with Alzheimer’s and Dementia”

  • Caroleeena says:

    There is not a video. I wish there was. I hope to do this a lot more though. Now that it’s getting warm, I am starting to think about it again.

  • Rhonda Bangert says:

    I’m going to make this playlist for my Grandma. I remember when the Alzheimer’s video was going viral. Kudos to you for creating something for this audience. Any chance there’s a video of that? LOVE

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