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Music Therapy for Dementia

Music Therapy and Dementia

Alissa Sauer

Who hasn’t felt the power of music? According to a 2010 study, over 90% of people have felt chills down their spine while listening to music. There’s no doubt that music is powerful, and recent studies show that it can be a powerful tool for reaching people in the advanced stages of dementia.

Learn more about music therapy, how it works, and how it benefits people living with dementia.

What is Music Therapy?

The American Music Therapy Association defines Music Therapy as “the 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.”

A music therapy session can look different for each person, depending on their needs and goals. They often include playing instruments, writing songs, directed music listening, discussing lyrics, dancing, creating music, or going through relaxation exercises while listening to music.

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Similar to art therapy, the goals of music therapy are varied but include increased communication, overall physical rehabilitation, increased movement, increased motivation to engage in treatment, emotional support, and providing an outlet for emotional expression.

Why does Music Therapy Work for People with Dementia?

Recent studies show that key areas of the brain associated with music and musical memories remain largely unaffected, even as Alzheimer’s and dementia progresses. Because of this, people with dementia can still enjoy music, and in some instances, it can even improve memory recollection.

There have been several compelling studies on the impact of music on dementia. One 2013 study found that singing in group music sessions brought significant improvement in the cognitive ability for people with moderate to severe dementia. The lead author on the study, Linda Maguire, wrote, “Musical aptitude and music appreciation are two of the last remaining abilities in patients with Alzheimer’s disease.”

4 Benefits of Music Therapy for People with Dementia

Because these areas of the brain remain unaffected, people with dementia are able to reap the benefits of music long after dementia has consumed other areas of cognition.

1. Music can bring back memories and emotions

Everyone can recall certain songs that bring them back to their childhood or another place and time. The same is true for people with dementia. Playing familiar music from their past may help recall happy moments from the past.

2. Listening to and enjoying music is one of the last cognitive skills remaining in advanced dementia

Because the areas of the brain where music is processed are left largely alone by dementia, people with dementia can still enjoy a familiar song, and sometimes even recall lyrics, even in advanced stages of the disease.

3. Music can help people with dementia reconnect with a loved one

Music brings people together in all stages of life, and the same is true of people with dementia. Putting on a classic or a favorite is a great way to engage with a loved one who has dementia.

4. Music can mitigate feelings of anxiety, confusion, and depression in people with dementia

Music evokes positive emotions and can help people with dementia overcome symptoms of dementia like anxiety, confusion, and depression. Studies have shown music can be soothing and relaxing, reducing stress, and even lowering blood pressure.

How has music helped you connect with your loved one with dementia? Have you seen music positively impact the life of a loved one? Share your stories with us in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you!

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