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.

If you or one of your loved ones suffers from a form of dementia, then read on for more information about how music therapy for dementia works, and what you can expect.

Why Does Music Therapy Work?

The first thing you probably want to know is how music therapy for dementia works. The answer lies in how our brains work.

While music can certainly trigger memories, relieve stress, and change our moods, the rhythms that we hear don't actually require any cognitive input in order to make those things happen. In other words, we don't need to think about music for it to soothe or make us happy, unlike something like reading or even watching and interpreting television.

Because music essentially bypasses the conscious mind to work it's mood altering, stress relieving magic, it can be used even for patients with advanced cases of dementia.

How Is Music for Therapy Selected?

Music therapy usually works by selecting music that has various effects on the person being treated. Often, a therapist will speak to the patient's family to find out which pieces of music have special significance to them, as this music is most likely to elicit a response.

They will also try to avoid music which has negative connotations for the patient, such as reminding them of sadness or anger associated with an event. In many cases, familiar music will be interspersed with music that the patient does not know, and which therefore carries no connotations. 

When music that that the patient knows is selected, it will often be from the period of their youth, as that is most likely to have an impact.

Different Types of Music for Different Responses

The music that is selected for treatment of dementia patients can be divided into two broad groups: stimulative and sedative. Stimulative music is upbeat and happy, such as dance music, and in dementia patients, this will usually promote actions like toe taps. Sedative music is slower, and more relaxing, and can be used to calm stressed or agitated patients.

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Using Music To Treat Dementia Patients

There are many ways that music therapy for dementia is used to treat individuals, including:

When non verbal patients become agitated, music can be used to soothe, distract and relax, as can singing, clapping or other types of rhythmic activities.

  • Patients who are still verbal may enjoy and get benefit out of singing.
  • Ambulatory patients can enjoy dancing alone or with a partner.
  • The use of music will depend on the stage of the disease, and should be tailored accordingly.
  • During the early stage of the disease, individuals may enjoy dancing at home or going out dancing. They may enjoy concerts, or if they play an instrument, they may enjoy taking up the hobby again.
  • Karaoke can be beneficial to early and mid stage patients, who will also benefit from background music.
  • Late stage patients will still benefit from listening to music, singing along to songs, exercising to music or drumming.
  • Most dementia patients will enjoy watching musical movies, such as the Sound of Music or the Wizard of Oz, and particularly movies that they may have watched many times. They may also enjoy singing along.

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Longest Lasting Abilities

Music appreciation and aptitude are two of the longest lasting abilities in dementia patients, and it remains something that even advanced stage patients can enjoy long after other abilities have become out of reach.

Music helps to trigger memories in ways that other things no longer can, and it is one of the few things that can break through the fog and create emotional and physical closeness in patients with a range of dementia ailments.

Musical activities that require participation, like singing or drumming, can also help to create focus in patients that otherwise struggle to be "present". It improves moods, reduces stress, and helps to stimulate positive interactions among patients.

In short, music therapy for dementia has a somewhat miraculous ability to reach patients at all stages of dementia, and can continue to do so long after other types of stimulation no longer work as they once did.

One of the Easiest Therapies to Incorporate

The good news about music therapy for dementia is that it's one of the easiest therapies to incorporate into a patient's life, as well as one of the most effective. You don't need to be a great singer to sing with a dementia patient, and every home has access to musical recordings. Every care center can incorporate music, singing and dance, and when you consider the benefits of this type of interaction, there's really no reason not to.


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