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  • Writer's pictureCarolyn Thomas

Dementia and Music Therapy

Welcome back to the Thrive Journal! This month, we're talking about how music therapy can be used to help people living with dementia. Dementia is a neurological condition that affects millions of people worldwide, and as of yet, there is no known cure. As the disease progresses, patients experience memory loss, confusion, and difficulty communicating. However, music therapy has emerged as a promising way to improve the quality of life of people with dementia. In this post, we will explore how music therapy can help people with dementia live a more fulfilling life, with a better quality of life.

What exactly is dementia?

Often people assume that dementia is one particular disease, but in reality it is an umbrella term for a group of symptoms caused by many neurological diseases. Because of this, there are many types of dementia, including:

  • Alzheimer's disease

  • Vascular dementia

  • Lewy Body disease

  • Frontotemporal dementia

  • Alcohol related dementia

  • Down syndrome and Alzheimer's disease

  • HIV associated dementia

  • Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) dementia

  • Childhood dementia

The most common types of dementia are Alzheimer's, Vascular dementia and dementia with Lewy bodies. Unfortunately, dementia is the second leading cause of death in Australia at the moment, and data shows that it is set to become the first leading cause of death soon. Because of this, it's likely that you know someone who is living with dementia, or have some personal connection to these struggles.

What are the symptoms of dementia?

In essence, the symptoms that dementia includes are:

  • memory loss

  • decrease ability to plan and problem solve

  • confusion relating to time/place/surroundings

  • difficulty understanding what is being seen

  • difficulty completing everyday tasks

  • trouble with speech/language/comprehension

  • decreased judgement

  • withdrawal from life

  • personality changes

  • Misplacing things and trouble retracing steps

These symptoms mean that people living with dementia often have difficulty communicating and expressing themselves, which can lead to frustration and social isolation. Music therapy can help alleviate these symptoms by stimulating different parts of the brain that are associated with memory, emotions, and communication. Research has shown that music therapy can improve the quality of life of dementia patients in several ways.

1. Memory Recall

Music has the ability to evoke strong emotions and memories in individuals, even those with severe memory loss. Studies have shown that music therapy can improve memory recall in dementia patients, often improving autobiographical memory.

2. Mood Improvement

Dementia patients often experience depression and anxiety due to their condition. Music therapy has been shown to improve mood and reduce depression and anxiety in these patients. This can lead to a decrease in agitation and difficult behaviours in people living with dementia, as these often stem from people feeling like they're not being heard or their needs are not being met.

3. Social Interaction

Music therapy can improve social interaction in people living with dementia. Musical engagement often stimulates conversation around music and associated memories, which can lead to feelings of connection and belonging in people living with dementia. This is important as dementia can be a highly isolating experience. Additionally, group work in music therapy can be highly beneficial, especially when singing is involved. When primary caregivers attend music therapy with their family member, it can also often lead to greater feelings of connection and can provide a lot of support for caregivers.

What interventions are used for people living with dementia?

The beneficial interventions that we can use in music therapy for people living with dementia will vary from person to person, depending on ability, interest and other factors. Common interventions used are:

  • Singing of familiar songs - singing songs from someone's youth is a great way to stimulate memories and connection, as this period of someone's life is often the most impactful on long term memory

  • Playing musical instruments - playing instruments and engaging in musical play is very cognitively stimulating, as it requires coordination, motor planning, collaboration with others and rhythm/timing.

  • Group singing - singing in a group is beneficial for many reasons, including social connections, creating a sense of belonging, stimulating the voice and respiratory system, soothing anxiety and releasing feel-good hormones

  • Creation of supportive playlists - certain times of day can be more difficult or more confusing for people living with dementia, most notably the 'sundowner' effect that happens in the evening. This is where people living with dementia tend to get more confused or agitated in the evening. Creating playlists of songs that are soothing and that bring up happy memories for the person can be a great way to support them through these difficult moments in the day

Music therapy has emerged as a promising treatment for people living with dementia. The therapy can help people with memory recall, improve mood, and increase social interaction. The positive effects of music therapy have been shown in many research studies, making it a viable treatment option for those living with dementia. If you or a loved one is living with dementia, consider exploring music therapy as a potential form of treatment.

As always, thanks for following along with the Thrive Journal, I so appreciate you reading and interacting with this blog! Please feel free to comment your thoughts down below, and leave any requests for topics you'd like me to cover in the future.

Until next time!


To learn more, check out the following:

  1. Brotons, M., & Marti, P. (2003). Music therapy with Alzheimer's patients and their family caregivers: A pilot project. Journal of Music Therapy, 40(2), 138–150.

  2. Guétin, S., Portet, F., Picot, M.-C., et al. (2009). Effect of music therapy on anxiety and depression in patients with Alzheimer's type dementia: Randomised, controlled study. Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, 17(1), 225–232.

  3. Raglio, A., Bellelli, G., Traficante, D., et al. (2008). Efficacy of music therapy in the treatment of behavioral and psychiatric symptoms of dementia. Alzheimer Disease and Associated Disorders, 22(2), 158–162.

  4. Ridder, H.M.O., Stige, B., Qvale, L.G., Gold, C. (2013) Individual music therapy for agitation in dementia: An exploratory randomized controlled trial. Aging & Mental Health, 17(6), 667–678.

  5. Särkämö, T., Tervaniemi, M., Laitinen, S., et al. (2014). Cognitive, emotional, and social benefits of regular musical


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