The Power of Music for Alzheimer's & Dementia

Music Magic

 By Debbie Nuccio Durrough

Mama and Dementia


 Using music and old photos with a loved one diagnosed with Alzheimer's or any form of Dementia is a powerful tool, as it engages the brain and invites moments of clarity.

Mama lived with dementia for almost 11 years.  The music and old photos in the video on the follow page triggered many moments of clarity, laughter, and new stories from mama.  And, most importantly, it is my belief that the music kept us connected until she departed from this world.    


I would like to invite you to try the following Music Magic Process to stay connected with your loved one, as I did with Mama.    

The process is fairly easy and fun!  


The first step is to select what I call "trigger"music.  In other words, any song that has a sentimental or special meaning to your loved one.

When selecting trigger songs, ALWAYS select the kind of music that they like such as...

  • Songs from their childhood or teen years
  • Songs that have sentimental or special meaning
  • Songs that their Mother or Grandmother would sing to them
  • Songs that they would sing to you or their grandchildren
  • Ethnic heritage music
  • "Their song" with the love of their life
  • Church songs (hymns and gospel music)
  • Show Tunes (if they loved the theater) 

If you do not know what type of music they enjoyed, experiment with the top hits from their generation and beyond (i.e the 40's, 50's, 60's,  70's, etc). Selecting the right trigger songs creates the best opportunities for moments of clarity with your loved one.    

Using Mama's profile as an example, I selected, "I Can't Help Falling In Love With You by Elvis and Andrea Bocelli because mama loved to listed to both versions.  Mama also had a beautiful voice and "I Can't Help Falling In Love With You" because Mama would sing this song to my father at family gatherings, celebrations and public events.  It was her signature song and proved to be the best trigger song.   

The second step is to select trigger photos.  Begin by gathering old photos (as far back as you can go) for their past that tell their story.  Also select photos that showcase their talents, hobbies, what they liked to do and special occasions (i.e.  weddings, birthdays, vacations, family friends and etc).  


The photos I selected in the video on the following page were chosen to "mirror"memories of Mama dancing with the love of her life, as my parents loved to dance.  Other photos in the video were selected to showcase the dresses Mama made for herself and her children ( she was a talented seamstress).  The longer version of the video also included family vacations, celebrations and photos of her adult children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.   

The third step is to create a video which includes the trigger photos and trigger songs.  Or you can create a hand-held photo album.  Remember to play their trigger songs while viewing the hand-help photo album. 


The last step is to view the trigger photos while listening to the trigger songs on a regular basis. While viewing it's important to pause and give them time to respond.  They may express words, feelings, emotions and watch for facial expressions  During the first viewing Mama would look at a photo and then look up at me and just smile.  Her facial expressions at times said more than words.  I You may need to view it a few times with them back to back before you get a response. Don't force anything and always be patient when they are not responding with words.  After the second viewing, you can tell the the story for them.  Avoid using words or phrases like, "remember" or "do you remember."  Instead, use phrases such as:  "Wow, you look so beautiful here."  "I love that dress you made,"  "look how young you and your brother are in this photo," or "you and Daddy sure loved to dance and you were great."  


My prototype was a simple hand-held photo album filled with Mama's trigger photos.  We would view the photo book together while listening to Mama's trigger songs. The hand-held photo book eventually evolved into a video.  A snip from this video can be viewed on the following page.    

The first time I played the video for Mama, I pointed to her wedding photo and asked her if she knew the people in the photo.  She replied, "No, but they are beautiful." I played the video again and repeated the question while pointing to her wedding photo, and she replied, " That's the love of my life."  She paused, and said, " I love that man."   



The videos were created with an app called Slide X to make the video.  The entire video can be made on your phone.  You download the app on your phone, use your phone's camera to take photos of your trigger photos and then follow the instructions on how to add the music from your phone. You'll follow a few other steps and your video will be completed.            

Music Magic Tips for Caregivers 

"The gift of music isn't necessarily about what music does for us...It's about what music undoes for us" ~ Joan Boryseenko  

Music can calm, comfort, improve mood swings, engage, energize and/or excite...   

The next time you are feeling overwhelmed or stressed, use the power of music to help you release stress and restore peace and balance to your body mind and spirit.  Simply select a song that you enjoy or gives you comfort (soothing).  One of my favorites is "Let It Be" by Paul McCartney or the Aretha Franklin recording of the song>  "Let It Be," reminds me to  "let go" and trust that everything will be alright.  Or if you are faith based, "Let Go and Let God."  This song is my pick as an anthem song for all caregivers or for anyone that finds it hard to say "no."   Play this song when you feel overwhelmed and need to replenish your body, mind and soul.  


Consider welcoming each new day with a 3-minute personal power song and dance.  I enjoy moving and setting the mood for my day with one of the following songs: “Happy” by Pharrell Williams, “Uptown Funk" featuring Bruno Mars, or Fireball by Pitbull.  If you want to engage your children and grandchildren to “move and groove” with you, select a recent pop song that they enjoy that has a hip beat. A few years ago my granddaughters came to life when I put on Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” and Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass."  We were movin' and groovin' and the synergy we created was most empowering.  I even learned a new dance move with my hands that reinforces shaking off stress and everything else that I wanted to “shake off.”

 When selecting your music magic power song, select a song that you enjoy, and as Peaches and Herb sing..."Shake Your Grove Thing."  

If you are a caregiver for someone with a debilitating disease such as Alzheimer's, all forms of Dementia, Parkinson's etc., music can be used to calm, engage, energize, and/or shift your loved one's mood.  

Experiment with using the music THEY  love when you are experiences challenges such as transferring from bed to chair or shower.   Make up little songs or sings songs that they know and enjoy.  Just make sure that the music mirrors the needed mood change and/or upcoming activity.  Example:  Whenever Mama needed a boost of energy I would play the song, "In The Mood" for her.  

One of my favorite music memories with mama was watching her reaction to this song.  She would make a fist with both hands and while shaking both of her tight fists and said, "Oh, I just LOVE this music." She had the same reaction with Louis Prima music too.  I am very grateful for Louis Prima music and all of the traditional Italian songs (i.e. 'O sole mio, Che la luna, etc.). 

May you enjoy many moments of clarity and love through the use of Music Magic.  

Questions or suggestions for trigger songs?  Send me an email: 


Mama's Music Magic Video

 The trigger photos selected for the Video listed below include photos of Mama...  

  • When she was younger (childhood and teen years)
  • Dancing with my father (they loved to dance)
  • Wearing some of the dresses she created for herself and her children (she was a talented seamstress)
  • And most importantly, photos of my father, "the love of her life" 

The longer version of this video included photos of her adult children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.