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What Can Imagery or Music Do for Alzheimer’s?

21 Apr

Dear BR,

I work with patients with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia.  What can you say about using guided imagery with them?  And what kind of music do you think is best?

Joan D.

Answer:

Dear Joan,

Alzheimer's patients and people with dementia tend to do well with guided imagery – any right brain practice, really - because it’s apprehended in parts of the brain that are still responsive and receptive to it. 

Even if the person isn’t able to track the meaning of the words and phrases, they still will pick up on the music, voice tone, pacing, emotional content and sensory feel of the experience – the flavor, so to speak.  So the imagery is very good for soothing agitation, calming upset or anger, and uplifting depression.  So is massage, and so is music by itself.

Generally speaking, the best music to use for calming and soothing is something with nice, long chords that can entrain the breath; a beat of 60/per minute or so, to encourage a slower, healthier pulse; and a melody that has some heart and lyricism to it, but is repetitive enough not to be too interesting – you don’t want the music to actively grab attention or compete with the voice, but rather to support it.  But on the other hand, you don’t want it to be so boring that it’s annoying.  People love Steve Kohn’s music because it’s beautiful but still designed to meet these requirements.

So it’s definitely worth a try.  Headphones may be irritating, so watch for that!   Hope this helps and best of luck.

Belleruth

Belleruth Naparstek

Psychotherapist, author and guided imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek is the creator of the popular Health Journeys guided imagery audio series. Her latest book on imagery and posttraumatic stress, Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal (Bantam Dell), won the Spirituality & Health Top 50 Books Award