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Music Therapy for Dementia

Updated: Aug 22, 2018

By Loret Haas-Hanser

Dementia is a common condition with recent prevalence estimates in the US suggesting over 3 million people show signs of dementia. Impairing daily function, dementia is a progressive neurological disease that has symptoms such as limited social skills, forgetfulness and cognitive impairment. Specifically decreasing memory capability and judgement, dementia is an incurable condition so far. Although incurable, modern medicine has facilitated some breakthroughs that improve quality of life for individuals with dementia. Depending on the stage, treatments like rehabilitation, occupational therapy and cognition-enhancing medication can lessen the loss of brain function associated with dementia. In August of 2017, six researchers reviewed 28 studies that tested the use of music therapy in participants with dementia. An unconventional and pleasantly non-invasive treatment, music therapy in relation to dementia is the therapeutic use of music to restore and promote mental and emotional health.

Music therapy for dementia can help improve memory and cognition, and lower agitation. By reviewing 28 studies in 8 various subcategories of music therapy, researchers established broad results about variables necessary to create a positive relationship between music and improved dementia symptoms. Some variables used by experimenters were audio type, type of music, volume of music and pre-recorded versus a music playlist. The majority of the studies reported positive outcomes of music therapy for dementia patients. Of the 28 studies measured, some variables best correlated with positive results were age-relatedness of music, listening guided by a therapist, and family-recommended joyful music. More than half of the participants involved in these studies had quantifiable statistically significant improvement in disturbances, anxiety, depression, emotional state, and quality of life. In over half of the studies, only 7.2% of dementia patients had an adverse reaction, i.e. symptoms worsening or having immediate tension or anxiety.

In some circumstances, music therapy showed a slight unfavorable progression in dementia symptoms. The researchers found that era-based music had the most polarized results, with more negative results from participants with Alzheimer’s than other music types. Conversely, patients with frontotemporal dementia reacted positively to memory-dependent music. Given this observation, it is possible that certain types of dementia are more susceptible to negative correlations when given music therapy.

Facilitating relief from dementia can be life-changing for patients and caregivers alike. Some studies were not as supportive as others; however, information gathered in those with a positive relationship will be developed more in the future. Rather than nursing homes, intrusive therapies, and drugs, something as simple as music can improve quality of life for those suffering from dementia. Even in severe levels of cognitive decline, the beauty of music can help to defy age-related alterations in the brain.


Garrido, S., Dunne, L., Chang, E., Perz, J., Stevens, C. J., & Haertsch, M. (2017). The

Use of Music Playlists for People with Dementia: A Critical Synthesis. Journal of

Alzheimer's Disease, 60(3), 1129-1142.

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