“If Music Be the Food of Love, Play On…” Music and Frontotemporal Degeneration


Shakespeare had it right. The unrequited love of Duke Orsino in Twelfth Night  could easily be compared to what eventually becomes one-sided love in FTD.

Music can have so much meaning in FTD.

Songs that evoke memories of happier times can be therapeutic for both the person with FTD and their family and friends.

Often music can help to retain a link with the present for a long time. Patients recovering from a stroke for example, can often sing their words but not speak them. But unlike after a stroke, the aphasia (loss of speech) in FTD is sadly not repairable and will not return. Obviously, any kind of dementia has a different etiology than a stroke, but music can play a large part in the daily activities of someone with FTD.

Music can evoke emotions in your partner or friend with FTD. It’s as if the feelings they had when they first enjoyed the song or piece of music can be resurrected somehow. They may not understand why they feel the way they do, but it’s enough that there is a response. So music can be therapy.

  • They may not be able to work an iPod or other mp3 player, but with help they may enjoy just listening to favorite music. Old albums on a record player work too. Going through the motions of putting the record on. Hearing the faint crackles. It all serves as a reminder of what they once loved.
  • Music may well have “charms to soothe the savage breast” according to William Congreve in 1670. It can certainly work to calm your frustrated FTD’er. There is evidence to suggest that music has a calming effect. This may be something to do with the brain focusing on listening to the sounds and being distracted from frustrations.
  • Music can also have a ‘grounding’ effect on the person with FTD. As if it gives them a temporary link to normality which may now be lacking. Especially in the mid-to late stages. Even when he could no longer speak, my husband would smile and nod knowingly when a familiar tune came into his earpiece.
  • Music is also therapeutic for you and other family members. Some pieces will evoke tears, some laughter, some just fond memories of happier times.
  • Sharing common memories can remind you of the closeness you once had. Try sharing your iPod – one earpiece each. The songs you danced to when you were younger. The movies that the soundtracks remind you of. It’s all there.

 Holding you together.  Like the soundtrack of your own life.


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