The Luxembourg Gardens in Paris. A glacier in Patagonia. Home.

These were some of the places people were transported to during the Feb. 19 Conversations with Caregivers program, “The Healing Power of Music Therapy for People with Dementia and Their Caregivers.” Sponsored by the Dementia Caregiver Support Program, this education series was created by the Division of Palliative Care and Geriatric Medicine to offer support to those navigating the often difficult path of caring for an aging parent, spouse or loved one.

“Music is capable of bringing you back to those memories from so long ago,” said Suzanne Hanser, EdD, MT-BC, Music Therapy chair emerita at Berklee College of Music, who led the evening’s program. “It can take you back to times of wonder, of growth, of love. If music can take you there, isn’t that a wonderful gift?”

Music therapists can guide patients through their pain. The MGH music therapy program, funded through the MGH Cancer Center, includes learning and playing musical instruments, listening to music, creating customized playlists and writing songs to share. And best of all, Hanser says, musicking does not require training.

“People with Alzheimer’s disease have a remarkable ability to recall music,” said Hanser. “It enhances emotion and attention because people don’t need that executive function to allow music to soothe them, to comfort them and to bring joy.”

Music doesn’t help only patients, it also can calm and uplift caregivers as well. Throughout the program, Hanser invited attendees to close their eyes and let the music carry them away. She also invited audience members to participate in creating a song of their own, using chimes of the pentatonic scale that were handed out.

“Music can really help to create a connection with a loved one, especially a loved one with dementia,” Hanser said. “Just remember, there will never be a piece of music that is prescribed, everyone is different. It’s all up to you.”

The next program in the series – “Solving the Driving Dilemma: DriveWise Driver Evaluation Program” – will be March 19 from 5:30 - 7 pm. Call 617-724-0406 to register. All are welcome.

For more information about the Dementia Caregiver Support Program, contact DementiaCaregiverSupport@mgh.harvard.edu. For more information about MGH Music Therapy, contact Lorrie Kubicek, MT-BC, music therapy program manager, at LKubicek1@partners.org.

Tips for bringing more music into your life:

  • Find comfort with music: Listen to music that you love, remember good times and share these memories. Let the music take you to one of those places or memories.
  • Energize with music: Find a favorite, energetic song that makes you want to move. Share your experience with family and friends.
  • Cultivate your musical self: Sing or hum along with the radio, dance or move to the beat, or consider lessons on an instrument you’ve always wanted to play.
  • Let music modify your mood: Play music when you are feeling sad, stressed or overwhelmed to lift your mood. Experiment with different types of music and see how they make you feel.
  • Celebrate every day: Attend a concert, join an ensemble or simply celebrate everyday moments at home with music you love.



Read more articles from the 03/08/19 Hotline issue.