How Music Improves the Lives of People With Dementia

Posted on: August 16th, 2021 by hhmin

A senior man puts his feet up on the desk and listens to his over the ear headphones


Imagine not being able to complete a sentence because the words you’re searching for aren’t there anymore. You’d probably feel embarrassed and, after repeated attempts, stop trying to communicate because not being able to express yourself is so darn frustrating.

Then, one day, you hear a song from your youth, and you remember every single word and every single note. You might even start singing along or tapping your feet to the rhythm. For a while, you feel like your old self again.

Why is music one of the last things to go for people with dementia? And how can you use music for dementia to connect with a loved one, calm them down when they’re feeling anxious, and help them engage in activities they enjoy?

Music for dementia: Reconnect with golden oldies.

Studies show that a person’s ability to enjoy music may be preserved even in late stages of dementia. The area of the brain that serves as the hub for music, memories, and emotions is one of the last areas of the brain to atrophy as a result of Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Another reason music from our formative years is so unforgettable is those songs are charged with emotions from the most vital years of our lives. Even songs you remember but don’t particularly like still have the power to evoke vivid memories. And that’s good news for people with dementia and the therapists working to improve their quality of life.

Music therapy helps at every stage of dementia.

In the early stages of Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia, listening to music can help people relax and reduce depression. Singing or playing music can boost brain function, enhance mood, and give a sense of success and accomplishment. Music therapy groups can challenge cognitive skills and encourage social interaction.

In the middle stages, when behaviors can sometimes be challenging, music is an effective way to distract someone. For example, you can sing a song with a person while you walk together. Often, the person walks farther while singing along and has a more enjoyable time while exercising. Music therapy has also been shown to help people with dementia sleep better at night.

In the later stages of dementia, music can help calm agitation or aggression. It can awaken people who’ve become isolated and help them become more engaged and aware of their surroundings. Even when verbal communication has been lost, moving to music or dancing with your spouse can help you stay connected.

5 tips to help you hit the right notes.

Consider these tips when using music for dementia to connect with a loved one:

  1. Think about your loved one’s preferences. What kind of music does your loved one enjoy? What music evokes memories of happy times in their life? Involve family and friends by asking them to suggest songs or make playlists.
  2. Set the mood. To calm your loved one during mealtime or a morning hygiene routine, play music or sing a song that’s soothing. When you’d like to boost your loved one’s mood, use more upbeat or faster-paced music.
  3. Encourage movement. Help your loved one clap along or tap their feet to the beat. If possible, consider dancing with your loved one.
  4. Sing along. Singing music together can boost mood and enhance your relationship. Some songs that are personally meaningful may even stimulate unique memories.
  5. Pay attention to your loved one’s response. If your loved one seems to enjoy particular songs, play them often. If your loved one reacts negatively to a particular song or type of music, choose something else.


Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care at Holly Hall.

We use a variety of sensory activities, including music therapy and art therapy, to engage residents with cognitive impairment. Our goal is to maintain a high quality of life and provide compassionate care for all stages of memory loss. 

As a MUSIC & MEMORY® Certified Care community, staff members at Holly Hall receive special training in the therapeutic use of music for memory loss. To learn more about how Holly Hall serves its residents with dementia, visit our Cognitive Support page.