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