How to Make a Playlist for your Loved One

June 1, 2023
3 minute read
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You might think that using music to mellow your loved one is as easy as hitting play on a Norah Jones playlist on Spotify. Turns out, it’s not as simple as that. We spoke to two friends of LUCID to see how they use music with their loved ones, and created a short field guide to creating a playlist for yours.

“When it came to caring for my mom throughout the progression of her Alzheimer’s, I learned that it didn’t matter if I played a song she liked,” said Brenda, one of LUCID’s main investors. “It had to be the right song performed by the right artist.”

Music can be a powerful tool when it comes to reducing agitation and anxiety levels in those living with Alzheimer’s, but it can also be a great means of connecting with your loved one.

“My dad is in the late stages of the disease now,” Kendall said. “Music is more than just a tool for us these days, it’s a whole activity. We’re not engaging in conversation anymore, but I can press play on a playlist and watch the light come back to his eyes. It brings him back to us for a few minutes.”

In the same way that your friend might love a song that you hate and vice versa, not every individual living with Alzheimer’s will respond in the same way to particular songs. That being said, there are a few things you can do to make sure you’re putting together a playlist that will resonate with them.

  1. Think back to the time period they grew up in – What was cool and popular when they were a kid? What kinds of songs were on the Top 40 when they were growing up? Was it the Beatles? Elvis? Frank Sinatra? Your long term memory is the last to go when living with Alzheimer’s – playing songs that are tied to someone’s earliest memories are the kinds of songs that will bring about the biggest emotional response.

  1. Think about your loved one’s major life events – What was their first dance song at their wedding? Which song would they put on whenever they were sad? What kinds of music would they play at dinner parties?

“My mother was really active in the church,” Brenda continued. “So, I started playing  gospel music for her. What a difference it made when it came to keeping her calm in the evenings!”

  1. Did the two of you share a song – What kinds of music did you enjoy listening to together? Even better if the song is tied to a memory that you share.

“I remember playing Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs for my dad when I was a teenager” Kendall carried on. “He loved it. We listened to that song together all the time. So, I included it in the playlist – turns out he still loves it!”

  1. Ask friends and family members to help curate the playlist – Your loved one has a different relationship with all of the people in their life, and those people might have different songs they remember enjoying together. Reach out to old friends or family and ask if they have any song recommendations – you might just strike gold.

  1. Don’t be afraid to include holiday music This playlist isn’t about being perfect from start to finish – it’s about choosing music with deep emotional ties for your loved one to hold on to. If Oh Tannenbaum was your loved one’s favourite Christmas carol, it’s worth throwing it onto the playlist.

  1. Experiment! – “There have been times where I thought that a particular song would light my dad up and it just… doesn’t,” Kendall concluded. “So, I try to take note of which songs he was most receptive to and which ones missed the mark and edit for next time.”

Music really can be medicine. The next time your loved one is struggling with agitation or anxiety, try putting on some music. You’d be amazed at the results.