Few people who know someone living with a form of dementia grasp the science behind how the brain is affected. Experts say that by increasing our knowledge of the brain's functions, we can more effectively approach caring for those struggling to live with this disease every day.

Image of a man living with dementia, with his wife, listening to music on headphones

To better understand how to interact with your loved one, it’s important to know what they may be experiencing during the phases of dementia. Early on, they may experience left-brain function losses in:

  • Logic and the ability to consider multiple options
  • Words and language, beginning with nouns and objects
  • Math, often first seen with the inability to balance their checkbook
  • Comprehension when doing daily reading, such as a newspaper or instructions
  • Reality, specifically losing understanding of what is fact versus fiction
  • Strategic thinking, or the inability to plan ahead
  • Safety awareness

To help your loved one as these left brain functions begin to fade, it is important to engage the right side of the brain where strong and powerful emotions are housed. You can do this through playing music, singing along with them, reciting familiar poetry or prayers, or even dancing with them if they're able. These activities are processed in the right side of the brain, which is said to help connect to the left side of the brain to temporarily allow lost functions to improve.

Further, if your loved one is able to stand, dancing has been proven to help even if a person has to use a cane to be more mobile and music helps the brain function on a deeper level to help the person become more functional.

The documentary Alive Inside showed that music is an optimal way to connect with people living with dementia. The filmmaker played each participant's favorite music through headphones, where the sound would be concentrated near the person’s brain. People who had very little interaction with their environment and barely spoke were suddenly becoming more engaged in their surroundings.

Rhythm is also important – in music and in the scheduling of the day.

Try to establish a routine as closely to how you know your loved one spent their day, if possible. They may not remember the routine each day, but they will remember the rhythm to the day, and that is helpful.

Navigating the complexities that come with a dementia diagnosis can be intimidating and overwhelming. By integrating music into your loved one’s daily routine, they can begin to reap the many benefits it has to offer.

By Blair Klayko