The role of singing familiar songs in encouraging conversation among people with middle to late stage Alzheimer's disease

J Music Ther. Summer 2014;51(2):131-53. doi: 10.1093/jmt/thu007. Epub 2014 Jun 19.

Abstract

Background: Language deficits in people with Alzheimer's disease (AD) manifest, among other things, in a gradual deterioration of spontaneous speech. People with AD tend to speak less as the disease progresses and their speech becomes confused. However, the ability to sing old tunes sometimes remains intact throughout the disease.

Objective: The purpose of this study was to explore the role of singing familiar songs in encouraging conversation among people with middle to late stage AD.

Methods: Six participants attended group music therapy sessions over a one-month period. Using content analysis, we qualitatively examined transcriptions of verbal and sung content during 8 group sessions for the purpose of understanding the relationship between specific songs and conversations that occurred during and following group singing.

Results: Content analysis revealed that songs from the participants' past-elicited memories, especially songs related to their social and national identity. Analyses also indicated that conversation related to the singing was extensive and the act of group singing encouraged spontaneous responses. After singing, group members expressed positive feelings, a sense of accomplishment, and belonging.

Conclusions: Carefully selecting music from the participants' past can encourage conversation. Considering the failure in spontaneous speech in people with middle to late stage AD, it is important to emphasize that group members' responses to each other occurred spontaneously without the researcher's encouragement.

Keywords: AD; Alzheimer’s disease; conversation; familiar songs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Alzheimer Disease / psychology
  • Alzheimer Disease / therapy*
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Music Therapy / methods
  • Music*
  • Quality of Life / psychology*
  • Singing*
  • Social Behavior
  • Verbal Behavior*