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How Music Soothes Those With Memory Loss

Listening to music has surprising benefits


This article is based on information provided by Home Instead Senior Care.

An operatic aria or the solo of a pedal steel guitar in a country-western tune. An old standard, a folk song or a holiday carol. When you hear this music you may start tapping your fingers or humming along. Something mysterious takes over when we listen to music. It is a balm that touches our emotions and engages us physically. For a person with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, the therapeutic power of music can have particularly positive effects.

A study published in the Journal of Music Therapy1 demonstrated that playing familiar background music helped to increase positive social behaviors in people with Alzheimer’s and decrease negative behaviors related to agitation.

Music has also been proven to significantly reduce anxiety and depression in people with Alzheimer’s disease, according to a study published in the Journal of Dementia and Geriatric Cognitive Disorders 2. One family caregiver explained her experience with music saying that she would wake her husband up every morning to the Louis Armstrong song, “Wonderful World,” and “He always started the day in a great mood.”

People with Alzheimer’s or other dementias who are no longer able to communicate via the usual means continue to remember music and respond to it.

There are several ways to use the therapeutic benefits of music to boost the spirits of your family member with dementia, as well as to help trigger their memories.

A great method is to put together a “life soundtrack” that includes memorable songs from the person’s childhood, teenage, young adult and older years. Research the top hits from each decade of your loved one’s life, find out what songs were played at his or her wedding, and pick out some well-loved hymns or carols. If your family member with dementia used to play a musical instrument, include music featuring that instrument as well.

Try to get the person with dementia to participate in any music making, rather than to simply listen. According to Preserve Your Memory magazine3, singing daily has a positive effect on one’s mental state. Many senior centers and other community organizations provide opportunities to sing with a group, play an instrument (even if just a woodblock or tambourine), or simply clap along. And make sure you participate too. Sing along when you play the soundtrack you created. You may be surprised by how many lyrics your loved one still remembers by heart.


1. Journal of Music Therapy, Winter 2007: “The Effect of Background Stimulative Music on Behavior in Alzheimer’s Patients”

2. Journal of Dementia and Geriatric Cognitive Disorders, July 2009: “Effect of Music Therapy on Anxiety and Depression in Patients with Alzheimer’s Type Dementia”

3. Preserve Your Memory, Winter 2011: “Celebrating Senior Sounds.”

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