Music is a form of emotional expression that helps us connect with those around us and assists us in making sense of confusing times and a confusing world.
So, is music a source of connection for patients with dementia? In light of the holiday season, we want to explore how Christmas songs influence individuals with dementia.
This article, part of our Christmas With Dementia series, will discuss the best types of music to play for people with dementia, including:
- fun, sing-along Christmas songs,
- traditional and familiar hymns,
- holiday party background music, and
- Christmas songs to potentially avoid.
So keep on reading to learn more – or – we have video and audio-only options for you too!
Best Types of Music to Play for People with Dementia
Researchers have investigated how music impacts individuals with dementia for many years.
In some ways, and with the right songs, music can help men and women with dementia connect with loved ones and caregivers emotionally.
Often this connection is on levels that are difficult to achieve through verbal expression alone. Music can sometimes provide a calming effect and reduce negative behaviors (anxiety, depression, agitation).
However, with so many songs and genre choices available, how does one know what songs are the best for individuals with dementia?
According to the experts, song choices boil down to acknowledging the individual’s musical preferences and any music that encourages participation or stimulates positive expression.
Here are a few tips on how to select music for the upcoming Christmas season:
Consider the Patient’s Musical Tastes
- What genres do they enjoy?
- What music did they listen to in the past?
- What music calmed them?
- What music made them want to dance?
Select Music Based on Mood and Routine
If you want to foster physical participation and engagement, select upbeat music. Select calming music if it’s nighttime and the bedtime routine is around the corner.
Pay Attention to All Responses and Reactions
Don’t get lost in the music yourself. Always check with the individual for over-stimulation or under-stimulation.
Encourage participation when necessary, but know when to turn the music off or switch to a calming song.
Fun, Sing Along Christmas Songs
For therapy sessions, group sessions, Christmas parties, and more, here’s a list of sing-along songs that may be appropriate for individuals with dementia who seek movement, dance, and connection with others:
- Sing-Along with Susie Q. Dementia / Alzheimer’s Christmas Music for Seniors – Singing for Elderly – Santa’s Favourites – Fun Activity for Nursing Homes & Assisted Living. Available at Amazon.
- Beth Williams Music. Christmas Sing-Along 4 Seniors. Click here to see it on Youtube.
- Printable Christmas Sing-Along songs by Kelly Roper. This is great for individuals who prefer to sing along with a written format in front of them. Click here to get the print-outs.
Traditional, Familiar Hymns
To set a more calming mood or to connect with religious roots, here are a few traditional hymns:
O Come All Ye Faithful: Sing Along Christmas Hymns for Elders with Dementia. Free downloadable music by Elaine Bosley.
Her songs include the following traditional hymns:
- Angels from the Realms of Glory
- Angels We Have Heard on High
- Away in a Manger
- The First Noel
- Go Tell it on the Mountain
- God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen
- Good Christian Friends, Rejoice
- Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
- Here We Come A-Wassailing
- It Came Upon the Midnight Clear
- Joy to the World
- Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming
- O Come All Ye Faithful
- O Come O Come Emmanuel
- O Holy Night
- O Little Town of Bethlehem
- Silent Night
- We Three Kings
- We Wish You a Merry Christmas
- What Child is This
Holiday Party Background Music
If an individual with dementia is attending a Christmas party and you want to set the mood, but not let music necessarily be the main activity, here’s a list of ideas for background music:
- “Here Comes Santa Claus” by Gene Autry
- “White Christmas” by Darlene Love
- “Little Saint Nick” by Beach Boys
- “Frosty the Snowman” by Jimmy Durante
- “Jingle Bell Rock” by Bobby Helms
- “We Need a Little Christmas” by Angela Lansbury
- “Christmas” by Darlene Love
- “Jingle Bell Rock” by Brenda Lee
- “Santa Baby” by Eartha Kitt
- “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” by The Ronettes
- “Holly Jolly Christmas” by Burl Ives
- “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” by Frank Sinatra
- “Blue Christmas” by Elvis Presley
- “Feliz Navidad” by Jose Feliciano
- “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” by Johnny Mathis
- “All I Want for Christmas is You” by Mariah Carey
- “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” by Brenda Lee
- “The Christmas Song” by Nat King Cole
- “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” by Andy Williams
- “Winter Wonderland” by Louis Armstrong
Christmas Songs to Avoid with Dementia
There isn’t necessarily a group of or a single Christmas song that should be avoided during the holiday season when it comes to general use for all individuals with dementia.
Like any person, some songs will be annoying, unpleasant, or have no emotional or nostalgic relevance to them.
If there are Christmas songs to be avoided, then that list should be based on the individual’s preferences and if negative behaviors are triggered by listening to those songs.
So, here are some tips when it comes to avoiding certain Christmas songs for persons with dementia:
- If the music stimulates negative behavior (agitation, anxiety, stress), turn it off.
- If the individual asks you to turn the music off, turn it off.
- If the music serves no purpose and stimulates little participation or elevated mood, consider switching the music out for something different.
Sometimes, selecting Christmas music will be trial and error until something fits. In other cases, song preferences will change as dementia symptoms progress.
Loved ones will find themselves adapting and selecting new music each holiday season.
Summary and Final Recommendations
Christmas songs for individuals with dementia are a great way to help them connect with those around them, stimulate positive emotions, and enhance their participation in the holiday experience.
Music can assist persons with dementia in communicating their needs and increasing their social participation when verbal communication fails them.
Loved ones can help by carefully selecting Christmas songs based on preferences, moods, and environmental settings so that they may enjoy the Holiday season with others.
- Kate McMahon, Imogen N. Clark, Karette Stensæth, Thomas Wosch, Helen Odell Miller, Anna Bukowska & Felicity A. Baker (2022) A qualitative systematic review of the experiences of sharing music for people living with dementia and their family care partners: the thread of connection, Arts & Health, DOI: 10.1080/17533015.2022.2128381
- Lineweaver, T. T., Bergeson, T. R., Ladd, K., Johnson, H., Braid, D., Ott, M., Hay, D. P., Plewes, J., Hinds, M., LaPradd, M. L., Bolander, H., Vitelli, S., Lain, M., & Brimmer, T. (2022). The Effects of Individualized Music Listening on Affective, Behavioral, Cognitive, and Sundowning Symptoms of Dementia in Long-Term Care Residents. Journal of Aging and Health, 34(1), 130–143. https://doi.org/10.1177/08982643211033407
- Graff-Radford, J., M.D. (2022). Can music help someone with Alzheimer’s?. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alzheimers-disease/expert-answers/music-and-alzheimers/faq-20058173