Does Music Help with Dementia? Here’s How.

Music is a universal language. People of all ages relate, connect, and enjoy music. However, its value can go far beyond simply listening, and it can offer more than relaxation or excitement. Here’s our take on how music boosts brain activity, thus helping people with Dementia. 

Music elevates the mood, soothes the soul, and gives joy to the listener. That has always been proven true. Listening to music is a universal experience. It’s an innovative way of delivering messages that makes it easier to listen to music at our convenience. 

Indeed, music and memory have an unexplainable connection. Music lights up emotional memories, songs remind people of memory of their past, remembers songs from their past, and brings happy or even sad memories. 

It’s no wonder that music has also become a great way to break through to dementia patients. But how’s that possible? That simple music and rhythms can help those who suffer from Alzheimer’s and Dementia.  

Today, let’s learn about how music help with dementia. 

Music and Dementia

Here’s everything you need to know about music and dementia.

What Do We Know About Dementia

Dementia is known to be a deficiency that affects memory, thinking, and social abilities severely enough to interfere with daily life. Essentially, Dementia mainly affects older people, However, for some dementia can develop earlier, presenting different issues for the person affected, their carer, and their family.

How Does Music Elevate Emotion for Patients with Dementia

Music therapy is a target-oriented and purposeful activity in which therapists work with individuals or groups using a musical expression, the memories, feelings, and sensations it evokes.

It has been found to be particularly beneficial for older adults with various types of dementia. Studies also say that music can help people with dementia in:

  • memory recall;
  • positive changes in moods and emotional states;
  • a sense of control over life;
  • non-pharmacological management of pain and discomfort;
  • stimulation that promotes interest even when other approaches are ineffective;
  • A structure that promotes rhythmic and continuous movement or vocal fluency as an adjunct to physical rehabilitation; and
  • opportunities to interact socially with others.

History of Music and Therapy

Essentially, formal music therapy was defined and first used by the United States War Department in 1945. It helped military service members recover in Army hospitals with occupational therapy, education, recreation, and physical reconditioning. 

The largest music therapy organization in the world, the American Music Therapy Association traces the formal beginnings of music therapy back to 1789. The earliest reference to music therapy was a paper called “Musically Physically Considered”, which was published in a Columbian magazine.

Source: Heather Craig, BPsySc


The impact of the music on the patients' physical and emotional responses prompted doctors and nurses to request that the musicians be hired. It became clear that the hospital musicians needed training before they could begin, and thus music therapy education was born.

Now that we’ve learned about the history of music, let’s find out why it’s imperative for a patient with dementia to have a music therapist. Here’s why.

What Does a Music Therapist Do?

“Music therapy has many faces,”

— Lehtonen. 

Music therapy can be beneficial in a variety of clinical settings, especially when communication is difficult due to disease, injury, or disability. 

It isn't until you lose your ability to speak that you realize how important it is for self-expression and communication with others. Therapists are also able to help minimize the anxiety and agitation that dementia can create, as well as help hospital and clinic staff to comprehend the origins of these symptoms — all thanks to the unique interaction of music therapy.

Essentially, music therapists work in a number of settings, such as schools, hospitals, mental health treatment centers, and nursing homes. They assist a wide range of patients/clients.

Studies also claim that “when used appropriately, music can shift mood, manage stress-induced agitation, stimulate positive interactions, facilitate cognitive function, and coordinate motor movements.” This is because music demands little to no thinking processes, so singing music does not entail the cognitive function that most dementia patients do not have.

Different music therapy techniques included are:

  • Listening to live or recorded music
  • Drumming
  • Learning music-assisted relaxation techniques, such as progressive muscle relaxation or deep breathing
  • Singing of familiar songs with live or recorded accompaniment
  • Playing instruments, such as hand percussion
  • Improvising music on instruments of voice
  • Writing song lyrics
  • Writing the music for new songs
  • Learning to play an instrument, such as piano or guitar
  • Creating art with music
  • Discussing one’s emotional reaction or meaning attached to a particular song or improvisation
  • Writing choreography for music
  • Dancing or moving to live or recorded music

Benefits of Music to Dementia Patients

“Clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.”

— American Music Therapy Association 

Essentially, it’s used for a variety of special populations, including those suffering from Alzheimer's disease or another type of dementia. Music can be used to provide a variety of therapeutic benefits not only to dementia patients but even to seniors as well.

Here are the benefits of music therapy to patients with dementia.

Improves Communication

Anyone who has dealt with or cared for someone suffering from dementia understands that verbal communication is not always the most effective method. Instead, while attempting to provide a pleasant and comfortable relationship, body language and other forms of nonverbal communication take precedence. 

Music is an excellent supplement to dementia communication, providing a fresh avenue for social connection and enjoyable experiences.

Promote Physical Rehabilitation

One of the most significant advantages of music therapy is increased healthful activity.

Music can serve as a catalyst for purposeful movements, such as applauding, swaying, or dancing. This movement, in the right therapeutic context, can help the person build strength, balance, and endurance, which can lead to a lower risk of falling and improved motor function.

It’s Made Accessible

Finally, you don't have to be a music therapist to employ music in your interactions with dementia patients. 

You can make an effort to use music throughout your day together, whether it's by playing a favorite playlist in the morning to boost energy or humming a beloved hymn in the evening to promote relaxation.

Improves Mood and Immune System

Music therapy can be utilized to instantly improve one's mood. While you may not have seen a music therapist directly, you have most likely felt the jolt of delight that comes with listening to a favorite song.

Adults with dementia might have these same sentiments, providing relief from the worry and melancholy that commonly accompany the disease.

How to Find the Right Music for Dementia Patients

While caregivers may not be qualified as music therapists, music interventions are highly common in the lives of a memory care community. Or you can also find out how you can find the right music for dementia patients — whether you’re a doctor, physician, a staff nurse, or a parent with a kid with dementia. 

These are some of the music types you can look for: 

  • Choose songs that mean something to them.
  • Pay attention to verbal and nonverbal cues.
  • Pick the right music style.
  • Encourage more appreciation for music.

Final Thoughts

There’s no denial, Music is wonderful, study-proven tool that can enhance and change lives for those who are living with dementia — regardless of their age. It can improve emotional and physical health while offering a new way for them to interact with the world around them.

There’s more to music.

Looking for help in music therapy? We can help you find the right sources, the right therapists and have a better understanding of the therapy. Book a consultation with us today!

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