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How You Can Use Music in Ministry With Dementia Patients

Music has power to stir emotions and stimulate the mind.  Recall how it has excited you at a parade or ball game or has stirred your patriotism while you faced our country’s flag.  At other times music has soothed your ragged nerves, calmed your rising fears, or taken you on flights of nostalgia.  Music remains a stimulant to thought and emotion for men and women with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia from other causes.

The Bible Speaks of Music


     Music is an aid to spiritual expression and development.  It has always been a prominent and essential element of the Christian faith.  The tradition is evident in the Scriptures.

     There was music in heaven at the dawn of creation.  God told Job that when He laid the foundation of the earth “the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy” (Job 38:7).  In their rejoicing the angels were following God’s lead, for God sings.  “TheLord your God is with you . . . he will rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17).  See also Zechariah 9:14 and 1 Thessalonians 4:16.


     There will be music throughout eternity.  We will join the angels and God in singing songs that are old (Rev. 15:3) and new (Rev. 5:9; 14:3).


     There are more than five hundred references to music in the Bible.  Two-thirds of the books of the Bible contain references to music.  David assigned sizeable units among the Levites to be in charge of music (1 Chronicles 6:31-32; 15:23, 27).  This level of attention indicates the importance of music to God and to us.


     Many of the Psalms are songs used regularly in worship during the Old Testament era, and many of them are the foundation for hymns used to this day.  The Psalms 111 through 118 are described as the “Hallelujah Psalms.” and it is likely that Psalm 118 was sung at the Last Supper (Mark 14:26, Matthew 26:30). 

Purposes of Singing to and About God

     The primary purpose of our singing is praise, which is the theme of the first complete song recorded in the Bible.  It, the “Song of Moses,” was sung by what may be the largest choir in history, the two to three million Jews who had just crossed the Red Sea during their escape from Egypt (Exodus 15:1-21).  They praised God for His mighty power and thanked Him for His care.  Words of praise from this song are so important that they are quoted in Psalm 118:14 and Isaiah 12:2.


     Music is a means of celebration, an expression of the joyful emotions that occur with triumph, good news, and loving relationships.  For example, after Moses’ song, Miriam the prophetess, tambourine in hand with the women following her, singing and dancing, praised God “for He is highly exalted, the horse and its rider he has hurled into the sea” (Exodus 15:21).

     Many Psalms, especially 39-70, were written as praise for use in worship.  Music was a prominent and frequent part of worship life of the Jewish community.  The Jews had musical instruments of many types, capable of producing many sounds and tempos, and evoking a wide range of moods. 


     Soon after the Annunciation Mary sang in praise and gratitude—“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46-55).  Zechariah sang following the birth of his son, John the Baptist (Luke 1:68-79).  Singing was a significant part of the Pentecost celebration, and on that first Pentecost after Jesus’ ascension the music must have been glorious as they praised God and rejoiced in the presence of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2).

Benefits of Singing to and About God

     Many benefits come as a result of singing and musical praise.  The benefits may not always be very visible in the dementia patient, but considerable evidence supports the assertion of Scripture that those who reach toward God find His hand, which was already outstretched toward them.  “But if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deuteronomy 4:29).  The dementia sufferer may not be able to volitionally invest much “seeking” and “looking,” but by their participation, even though passive, they will most certainly find Him and experience an embrace within His loving arms.  We list more specifically some of the benefits:

     Obedience.  God commands worship; it is an obligation.  “Sing joyfully to the LORD, you righteous; it is fitting for the upright to praise him.  Praise the LORD with the harp; make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre.  Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy” (Psalm 33:1-3.  See also Psalm 96).  Paul tells us to “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.  Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19. See also 1 Corinthians 14:26).  Obedience builds relationship.

     Transformation.  “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).  This new creature finds it natural to sing because, as David found, “He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God” (Psalm 40:3).

     Release.  King Saul was, apparently often, afflicted with discomforting emotions (1 Samuel 16:15-23).  He brought David into his court for relief.   Whenever distressed, “David would take his harp and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him” (v. 23). 

     Comfort.  Hezekiah, distraught with illness, seems to have found solace in singing praise to God (Isaiah 38:1-20).  Paul and Silas prayed and sang in prison (Acts 16:16-40). The apostle James puts prayer for healing and songs of praise side by side (5:13-15), reminding us that praise produces assurance of God’s continuing care. 

     Witness.  Note, too, that the other prisoners listened to Paul and Silas, and apparently to good effect for they did not escape though “all the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose” (Acts 16:26).  Good music with uplifting lyrics is winsome, even when sung by amateurs in jail.

     Learning.  God teaches and transforms us through his word.  Lyrics that describe God increase our faith, which is essential, for “without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6).  Singing was an integral part of the teaching process in the Early Church (Col 3:16). 

     Growth.  Because God is love, He only calls us to do things that are good for us. Worship builds our relationship with God, helps suppress pride (the most dangerous flaw in human nature), produces growth in spiritual maturity.

Benefits of Using Music in Alzheimer’s Ministry

     There has been an great amount of research on the use of music with dementia patients.  The outcomes have demonstrated clearly that music enhances well-being for men and women who have Alzheimer’s or dementia from other causes.

     According to the American Music Therapy Association, music contributes to memory recall (which, in turn, stimulates reminiscence and satisfaction with life), evokes positive changes in mood and emotional states, reduces stress, and often stimulates interest even when no other approach is effective.  When spouses and families share creative music experiences emotional intimacy and social interaction are generated.

     Renowned music therapist Dr. Alicia A. Clair, director of the Division of Music Education and Music Therapy at the University of Kansas, confirms that music is a therapeutic tool for persons with dementia.   According to Clair, "Music, especially rhythm playing and singing, can spark compelling outcomes even in the very late stages of Alzheimer's disease. When used appropriately, music can shift mood, manage stress-induced agitation, stimulate positive interactions, facilitate cognitive function, and coordinate motor movements."


What your singing does for the Alzheimer’s patient

     Singing hymns and gospel songs provides an example of faith that is strong enough to be proclaimed joyfully.  This is an encouragement to all who hear it.  If singing in front of another person is not within your personal comfort zone, it still is an act of companionship and good fun for the hearer.  A dementia patient is rather unlikely to indicate that they recognize these benefits, but they exist in bountiful quantities and are meaningful.

What singing does for you as a visitor

     First, you get the same benefits as the person you visit—a positive boost in mood, a joyful time of worship, the stimulation of optimistic words and grand melodies.  And, you get the special rewards that come from giving of yourself to another.   If singing in a unique situation—singing one-to-one in a patient’s room, for example—is not comfortable for you, you will find gratification in having pushed aside self-consciousness to give unselfishly to another person.


Methods of Using Music with Alzheimer’s Patients

     Participation is always good for the dementia patient.  Several options are available, depending upon the ability and inclination of the person.  When using Songs About Jesus’ Love, the options include:


1. Passive listening to the CD.

2. Looking at the pictures while listening.

3. Reading the book silently while listening to the CD (the font size and sans-serif style aid this).

4. Humming or singing along with the CD.

5. Singing without the CD.

Development of the Book and CD Songs About Jesus’ Love

     Before selecting songs, we searched the Internet and found about a dozen lists of favorite hymns.  Most had been compiled by congregations by polling their members; two had been developed by seminary professors by surveying a number of congregations.  The songs appearing most often were identified.  Then the songs were evaluated for their content, with an emphasis on joy, praise, and optimism about the future. 


     All Touching Grace products are designed to meet the special needs of persons with Alzheimer’s disease.  These features allow them to be useful to all other persons, too, but take into consideration the unique requirements shared by most persons with dementia.

     The words are printed in large type that has a sans serif design.  This aids the perception of the words’ meaning more readily by many Alzheimer’s patients.  The pictures were chosen to provide literal connection with the meaning of the song, and selected for their bright, intense  colors which enhance and reinforce the joyfulness of the songs.

     The music was delivered with intimate styling.  There is no need for a massive, bombastic sound here—rather, a more personal and sensitive delivery.  The lyrics of the musicians match the book word for word.          


     The research by Dr. Diana Walters established that mid-stage Alzheimer’s patients responded positively to biblical content that was presented in a stimulating manner.  When Christian truths are combined with good music—as the well-loved hymns do—the effects of the two approaches are added together.

     The book and CD, Songs About Jesus’ Love, were developed to capitalize on the power of this combined effect.  We encourage you to obtain this tool of ministry and use it to bless the many men and women who are unable to come to regular worship.  A special quantity price makes it easy to get enough copies for use with groups.  Helping dementia patients experience their faith more fully will be in obedience to God, and you will find great joy and comfort from your efforts.


Click the link to see Songs About Jesus' Love.

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