Medically Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH on November 17, 2020
There is no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease. There are, however, many ways to treat symptoms and problems associated with the disease. Some Alzheimer’s treatments involve medications. Others are non-medical Alzheimer’s therapies like art, music, and more. The goal of an Alzheimer’s therapy is to help the person maintain a better quality of life.
Alzheimer’s therapies that draw on individual interests through structured activities can be beneficial. Which therapies might work best for your loved one with Alzheimer’s disease? Start to answer this question by thinking about their past hobbies or passions. Talk with the doctor as well, who may have more suggestions and resources for using these therapies effectively for Alzheimer’s disease.
Music Therapy for Alzheimer’s Disease
Music therapy has many benefits for Alzheimer’s disease. It may help by:
- Soothing an agitated person
- Sparking memories
- Engaging the mind even in the disease’s later stages
- Improving eating in some cases
Here are some tips for using music therapy to help your loved one:
- Golden oldies spark memories. Songs from the person’s youth often spark the most memories. In the later stages of Alzheimer’s disease, you may have to go back to songs learned in childhood. Encourage sing-a-longs. Try using a karaoke machine.
- Toe-tapping beats stimulate activity. Up-tempo dance tunes can help stimulate both mental and physical activity in Alzheimer’s patients. Encourage dancing, if possible.
- Easy listening can be soothing. Soothing music can help ease the anxiety and frustration felt by many people with Alzheimer’s disease. For example, lullabies at bedtime can help your loved one get into bed and fall asleep.
A person with Alzheimer’s disease may not be able to verbally communicate their likes and dislikes. Rely on other clues such as facial expressions to help you learn which songs are a hit and which aren’t. Ask friends or relatives for suggestions about the types of music or particular songs the person used to enjoy.
Art Therapy for Alzheimer’s Disease
Painting, drawing, and other forms of art therapy can help people with Alzheimer’s disease express themselves. Expression through art can become especially important as a person’s ability to communicate through words deteriorates.
Here’s how to get your loved one engaged in art therapy:
- Picture the past. Encourage a project that tells a story or evokes a memory. The project can be something that you can talk about together, both while the work is in progress and after it is finished.
- Free form. Keep instructions to a minimum to avoid confusion and frustration. Then, step out of the way as the work takes shape. If necessary, get things started by painting the first few brush strokes yourself to remind your loved one how it is done. Don’t forget that the picture is done when the person says it’s done, whether you think so or not.
- Don’t be a critic. If you don’t care for the colors chosen, keep it to yourself! Positive feedback and questions that encourage interaction are the best contributions you can make.
Other Alzheimer’s Disease Therapies
Other therapies can help enrich the life of a person with Alzheimer’s disease. Which therapies work best depends on the needs of the individual.
- Massage. This hands-on therapy may help in two ways. It can ease agitation and may improve sleep.
- Pet therapy. People who used to enjoy being with pets may find contact with them enriching or soothing. Match the pet to the person’s needs. For example, a person who can walk may enjoy visiting with a dog. A person who is less mobile may enjoy petting a cat.
- Previous hobbies. Pursuing hobbies or interests that used to be familiar can help a person with Alzheimer’s feel more stable about their lives. Consider gardening, cooking, or any other activity that the person used to enjoy. Try to work these activities into the person’s daily routines.