Music therapy for Dementia
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Dementia and Music Therapy

It’s devastating for loved ones and frustrating for caregivers when they’re unable to communicate with someone battling dementia. Any means of communicating with the patient is a welcome relief.

Music therapy for dementia is one of the most exciting and promising complementary therapies being studied today. It’s no wonder that a vast number of programs have been launched in an effort to bring music to the elderly.

In an effort to gain a better understanding of the importance of this breakthrough, let’s answer a few common questions.

What is music therapy for dementia?

What is music therapy for dementia

Music therapy is a treatment to improve cognitive function in people living with dementia. Research has shown that listening to or singing along with music has a positive effect on patients with dementia.

There is growing interest in using music therapy in dementia care. More evidence is documented every day that patients with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia respond positively to music, thus alleviating anxiety. Loved ones and caregivers enjoy seeing the positive changes in the patient as they hear a familiar song. A clinical trial to be concluded in 2022 will shed more light on this therapy.

It’s likely that more studies will be conducted to understand the full impact of music therapy on cognitive impairment.

What are the benefits of music therapy for dementia?

The links to a patient’s musical memories are largely unaffected by Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Playing music familiar to the patient can trigger long-term memories, increasing cognitive function.

These connections have been shown to decrease anxiety and relieve stress. The agitation associated with the frustration of memory loss is also reduced.

Triggering these memories builds a bridge that allows loved ones more intimate communication with the patient. This is significant for those who are losing their ability to communicate verbally.

What are the disadvantages of music therapy?

1. Overstimulation: This is common in many forms of music therapy. Music has a real and measurable effect on the human body and many factors come into play.

Overstimulation can result from a volume that’s too high, instruments that are irritating to the listener, and categories of music that sound angry or agitated.

Unwanted sounds such as a television playing in another room, door slamming, or video game sound effects can all play a role in overstimulation. When working with a patient through music therapy, it’s important to control the environment by removing as many unwanted noises as possible.

2. Possible triggering of bad memories: The music we relate to will often create the soundtrack of our lives. These songs can remind us of things we might wish to forget. If the patient has PTSD, certain songs may trigger an unwanted memory. Since our memories are just as real as if they were happening in the present, the patient will, unfortunately, relive the bad memory as if it were happening in the present day.

Can music help someone with Alzheimer’s and dementia patients?

Can music help someone with Alzheimer's and dementia patients

Research has proven that music can definitely help patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s. The right music will soothe their nerves, stimulate memories, and alleviate a lot of the stress felt with trying to recall simple things and also with the self-realization that they have this disease.

Music is one of the earliest forms of communication and is a channel for caregivers and loved ones to reach a patient with Alzheimer’s. The disease can’t erase the musical memories of the patient. This gives loved ones a chance to reach the patients, even after the disease has progressed to the point of rendering them non-verbal.

What type of music is best for dementia?

What type of music is best for dementia

Experts have developed a set of guidelines that can be used to help patients with dementia through the use of music therapy.

The best music for dementia is music that evokes a positive response from the patient. If the patient can still choose their own music, then let them do so.

Interruptions cause confusion, so be sure the source of the music is commercial-free. The best way to avoid outside distractions is to have the patient listen to music using headphones. Also, be sure the volume isn’t too loud. Loud music is known to be agitating.

Music should set the mood you’re trying to create. Upbeat songs will bring joy, especially if they’re familiar tunes. Even in the later stages of the disease, patients will try to tap their toes and clap along to the beat.

Choose music that encourages participation. If they can dance or sing along to the music, encourage them to do so. Music has a strong physiological effect, so any type of relatable activity will certainly help with cognitive function.

If you’re trying to alleviate anxiety, choose music that’s calming. Avoid sad lyrics as they can bring on episodes of depression. Instrumental music in major keys works well.

What are some good music therapy examples from YouTube?

YouTube is a fantastic resource for examples of music therapy, including therapies that involve patients living with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia. Here are just a few examples of what’s available on the platform.
1. Alive Inside: The movie “Alive Inside” is a documentary about the role music therapy plays in dementia. It won the “Audience Award” at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.

Here’s the trailer for the film.

The full movie is available on YouTube Movies and there’s an entire channel dedicated to this therapy here:
Here’s a short news clip interviewing students from Lakehouse Music Academy that participated in the inaugural launch of the “Alive Inside Foundation” pilot program in their community.

2. Music therapy in practice: This is an example of a sing-a-long by Linda Moo Music. “Therapeutic Music Activity for Alzheimer’s and Dementia”

This therapy is too important to stop exploring, and it’s one that all of us can participate in. To learn more and to do more, reach out to the senior centers in your community.


1. Alive Inside

2. A Community-Based Music Therapy Support Group for People With Alzheimer’s Disease and Their Caregivers: A Sustainable Partnership Model – Frontiers

3. Impact of a Cognitive Intervention Enriched With Leisure Activities in Persons With Subjective Cognitive Decline – National Library of Medicine

4. Music Therapy in the Treatment of Dementia: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis – National Library of Medicine

5. Music Therapy in the Treatment of Dementia: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis – Frontiers

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