Music Therapy

Sundown Syndrome: What is "Sundowning" and How is it Managed?

Sundown Syndrome: What is "Sundowning" and How is it Managed?

You may have a loved one or know someone suffering from Alzheimer’s as there are 5.7 million Americans currently living with the disease. Alzheimer’s and other dementias have many unique challenges that can affect seniors in different ways such as sundowning. Sundowning is a symptom for people with Alzheimer’s or other dementias that has multiple causes and displays differently for each individual. Sundowning can be alarming for the seniors who experience it, and for their families and caregivers who witness it happening.

This post will introduce you to a series of potential strategies you can use to decrease the magnitude of these challenges, offering suggestions to manage the symptoms of sundown syndrome to lessen the sense of apprehension that each day's sunset might be bringing you.

Music Therapy in Dementia Treatment

Music Therapy in Dementia Treatment

The various forms and types of dementia are terrible, debilitating conditions. Even worse, there is very little known about these conditions, so treatment and management options are, in many cases, very limited. Fortunately for dementia sufferers and their families, there is proof that music therapy can have a significant, positive impact on symptoms and quality of life.

Aging with Music


Music has incredible power, especially for individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia. Various studies and research have indicated that it can spark compelling outcomes even in later stages of the disease; this is because a person’s ability to engage in music can stay intact late into the disease process.

Most people associate music with important events and strong emotions. The connection can be strong enough that hearing music can spark a memory of events and emotions. Music that is soothing to one person might remind another individual of an emotional event.

The key to success lies in selecting music that is most likely to produce the desired responses:

  • Studies have shown that selections from the individuals’ young adult years are more likely to demonstrate strong responses and potential engagement.
  • Similarly, unfamiliar music can be used as relaxation therapy to enhance sleep as well as manage stress and agitation.
  • Music from one’s childhood sung in the person’s native language can help increase involvement in later stages of dementia.
  • When introducing music, it can be useful to initially observe the individual’s response so that you can compile a catalog of links between music and responses, especially if links to music are unknown.

How to use music therapy?

Some of the suggestions by the Division of Music Education at the University of Kansas* are summarized below.

Early Stage Dementia:

  • Use music that the person liked in the past
  • Encourage the individual to play an instrument that they played in the past

Middle Stage Dementia:

  • Play music as the individual is walking to improve balance
  • Use background music to enhance mood

Late Stage Dementia:

  • Use music of old favourites
  • Sing along with tunes of popular music for the individual’s generation
  • Exercise to music
  • Play soothing music


Education and Care - Music -

* Contributed by Alicia Ann Clair, Ph.D., MT-BC, professor and director of the Division of Music Education and Music at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. “How-to” section contributed by Concetta M. Tomaino, DA, MT-BC, vice president for music therapy and director of the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function at Beth Abraham Family of Health Services, Bronx, NY.

Official study reveals that the average person will spend 13 years of their lives listening to music