Managing Sundowners Syndrome Tip #7: Use Music and Calming Sounds

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Guidance on how to properly care for your loved ones as they navigate through the aging process

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AARP Expert

Managing Sundowners Syndrome Tip #7: Use Music and Calming Sounds

Sundowners syndrome can mean increased anxiety, restlessness, fear and insecurity for our loved ones in the afternoon and evening. One of the best ways to introduce a sense of calm and comfort is my next tip:

 

Use Music and Calming Sounds

 

I have a degree in music therapy and started out my career as a music therapist working in adult day centers and nursing homes. I found music to be an incredibly effective tool, especially for those who are living with dementia.

 

Years later, as I cared for Dad, my music therapy skills kicked in and we used music throughout the day to help him— instrumental music as he woke up, sing-along favorites or show tunes to activate him, and calming music when sundowning set in. Music gave Dad a much better quality of life while living with Alzheimer's. 

 

According to a recent report from the AARP-founded Global Council on Brain Health music stimulates many areas of the brain, including those responsible for memory, movement and mood. So our brains process music in unique ways. That's why, for people with dementia, music is often more effective than spoken language. Some caregivers tell me their loved one has never been a big music fan, but when they try using music this way their loved ones actually do respond well.

 

Here are some tips for using music and calming sounds:

 

  • You may try a few different types of music for your loved ones until you find the sound and genre that resonates with them. You can use your smartphone, computer, CD player, radio, TV or smartspeaker to play music. You can always sing too! If Dad got anxious, we started singing his favorite songs and he would join in — a great diversion and mood changer.
  • I recommend you try using headphones because we find that helps shut out distracting sounds and helps the brain focus better. It's also helpful for those who are hearing impaired. Headphones for music and TV worked really well for Dad. (Although I often played music I could hear as I went about my caregiving tasks too - because it calmed my stressed-out nerves!)
  • For calming music, I suggest trying instrumental music, like solo piano, classical guitar, harp, or instrumental religious music, folk music, show tunes etc. Try using music apps such as Pandora, Spotify, or Amazon Music. You can play albums, stations, channels or playlists they provide, or you can create a “relaxation” or “spa” channel using keywords. 
  • A calming meditation tape or app can be helpful too – the voices are generally very soothing and calming. Nature sounds are also very peaceful and relaxing. You might play a rain sound, ocean waves, waterfall, woodland sounds etc. We played a sleep meditation as Dad went to sleep, and a rain sound all night for which helped him fall asleep and slumber longer.
  • Use music to gradually change your loved ones' mood. If your loved ones are very anxious and “worked up”, you might first try matching music to their current mood (more energetic music), and then gradually change the music to something calmer and more peaceful. This technique can help steer them to more serene place.

 

Check out my AARP video with tips for using music throughout your caregiving day! 

 

Experiment with music and let us know what works for your loved ones!

 

Take care,

Amy Goyer, AARP Family & Caregiving Expert

Author, Juggling Life, Work and Caregiving

Honored Social Butterfly

Got any suggestions for a deaf person or ones that are extremely hard of hearing - for the later, I have found that sounds of many types actually agitate them more.  

It's Always Something . . . . Roseanna Roseannadanna
Periodic Contributor

Not to sound silly, but when I had my mother living with me, until she was 99, I took her for hearing aids and it changed her whole attitude for the better! She had a better grasp of what was going on around her, could have normal conversations because she was hearing what people were saying and it was a blessing to everyone else, too! We no longer had to raise our voices, constantly ask her to repeat herself, etc. Hearing aids are the answer and the newer ones (BTE's) are great!

AARP Expert

@JudyG46 that's fantastic - and so good to hear a hearing aid success story!!! Thanks for sharing!

 

 

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@JudyG46 

I am sure that if hearing is a relatively new problem that an aid or aids would be beneficial, especially certain types of hearing loss.  Same goes for glasses.  But the folks I am talking about here have had life long problems - especially if they have other problems relating to their cognitive abilities.

 

The 1st set of aids my mother got when she was late 30's, early 40's, they created a real problem for her and her other mental health problems.  One incident I remember like yesterday was the 1st time she heard a plane in our front yard.  I have never seen anybody be so scared - from then on, one of us had to be with her at all times.  As time passed, she had to have stronger and stronger ones.  Then when recuperating from a broken hip, undergoing PT - she was then about 80 - she could not understand what she was suppose to do - I set up the pocket talker with the aids she had at that time, instructing the therapist on how to use the set up,  they were able to work thru it and she return to independent living for a few more years.

 

 

It's Always Something . . . . Roseanna Roseannadanna
AARP Expert

@JudyG46 Sounds like you are a very flexible and creative caregiver!!!

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@GailL1 Have you tried using the headphones? Sounds can be so frustrating for people who have hearing impairment when they can't interpret them - they just become an annoyance. It's kind of the same for someone with dementia because they can't interpret the sounds sometimes too. Music works differently in the brain - it uses more that one part of the brain so it's often easier to process for people with dementia. The headphones make it easier to hear (you may still have to turn the sound up loud). We also had TV headphones for Daddy - made a HUGE difference for him! (tip - splurge on the slightly more expensive ones with real headphones instead of earbuds - we found they worked better and lasted longer...)

 

Also the type of music may be important - with hearing impairment often you can't hear certain tones on the spectrum (high, low etc.) And music that gets softer and louder a lot may be disconcerting (I can hear it! Now I can't...). So finding music with a steady volume can help. It may take some experimenting over time to see what works best. 

 

This article has some tips! "Music Listening with Hearing Aids" 

 

Smart Hearing Aids are also a help!

 

Hope this helps! 

 

Take care,

Amy 

Honored Social Butterfly

I have tried just about everything with the aids; with no aids, no sounds at all, it seems -

It use to work with the aids + earphones and one of those pocket talkers but now nothing seems to be getting through - earphones now just continue to agitate her.  It is hard to tell whether it has more to do with the hearing and the distortion of any sound or her deteriorating cognitive abilities. 

 

The only reason I am involved with this person is because she is in the same memory care unit where my mother (now deceased) use to be and the lady has problems similar to my mom (hearing) and they wanted to know if I had any suggestions for this agitation.

 

The memory care personal says that sitting with her and stroking or brushing her hair is about the only thing that keeps the extreme agitation at bay (sometimes) - but it has to be constant and constant is kind of hard for them to do - so they do it mostly in the evening when it seems to be the worse.

 

She also has sporadic (currently) balance problems so I am not sure how much longer the memory care unit will be able to care for her.  This might be something inner ear but the called in ENT hasn't found any substantiation of the balance problem.  She is also very old - 90+

Difficult situation all around.  Since I have caregiving experience with the deaf (my mom) with dementia and a host of other problems, I know how difficult it is -  you just have to continuously try things - what works for one may not work for another depending on their hearing abilities.  

Thanks for the link ~

 

 

 

 

 

 

It's Always Something . . . . Roseanna Roseannadanna
AARP Expert

@GailL1 So good of you to be helping them out with this! 

 

It sounds like maybe just the sensory stimulation of having the earphones touching her might even be bothering her - maybe that more than the sounds. It's so hard to tell if she can't explain. We were so lucky that Daddy adapted quickly to the pocket talker and liked it and NEVER complained about the earphones - pretty amazing actually. He couldn't stand the hearing aids at all. He did like the larger fancy (cushier) TV headphones I got him. 

 

There are headphones that are in a headband - they may be more comfortable to wear - it might be worth a try! Neither AARP or I are endorsing or promoting any of these headphones but I want to help so here is a link to a search for them on Amazon - shows quite a few styles/types/brands: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=headband+headphones&ref=nb_sb_noss_2