How Music Can Help People With Alzheimer’s Dementia

Alzheimer’s disease is a degenerative disease that impairs memory, learning, and behavior. According to the National Institute of Aging, more than 6 million persons in the United States have Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s disease has no known cure. Treatment usually entails taking a number of drugs to alleviate symptoms or halt the progression of the condition. Alternative treatments such as acupuncture and aromatherapy may also be beneficial to certain people.

According to researchTrusted Source, music has a good effect on the health of patients with Alzheimer’s disease. It may also help patients at risk of Alzheimer’s disease delay the development of the disease.

Music therapies, whether guided by a professional music therapist or as part of a group activity, can help reduce symptoms and improve life for people with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers.

What exactly is music therapy?

Music therapy is an evidence-based strategy to improving health outcomes that use music. A skilled music therapist can design a personalized program to assist you or a loved one with physical, emotional, social, or cognitive issues.

Music therapy, according to the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA), can help with:

  • Expression of memory and communication
  • stress reduction
  • physical rehabilitation for pain relief

Music therapy versus other types of music treatments

A certified music therapist who can establish a tailored plan for a patient or client is required for music therapy. According to research, personalised programs are more effective than general plans.

Group musical treatments, even if not guided by a music therapist, may improve mental health and well-being, according to research. However, these interventions necessitate thought and strategy.

Dr. Carol Beynon, emerita professor at Western University in London, Canada, observes that the efficacy of such interventions is frequently dependent on intelligent and informed leaders. “Key components include what music is used, how it is used, and who is doing the teaching,” Beynon says.

Beynon investigated the origins and consequences of the Intergenerational Choir Project, which brought together people with dementia and their caretakers with high school students and their music teacher. The project was established by the local Alzheimer’s Society, which gave teacher and student training prior to their contacts.

“It should be a well-planned and sequential curriculum, not just a series of activities.” “There needs to be a plan,” Beynon continues, “but you also need to be flexible.”

What is the difference between active and passive music interventions?

Music interventions might be active or passive in nature. Active and passive interventions engage various areas of the brain, according to 2021 researchTrusted Source.

Music interventions that are active

Active music therapy and interventions involve you in the creation of music. Active interventions include the following:

  • group singing in drum circles
  • writing music while playing a musical instrument

These activities frequently include some form of mobility. If movement is not a regular feature of the musical activity, a music therapist or activity leader may incorporate modest movements. According to 2022Trusted Source research, the addition of movement may enhance the therapeutic effect.

A survey conducted in 2021According to Trusted Source, active therapies outperformed passive interventions in improving cognition, behavior, and motor function in patients with Alzheimer’s disease.

Interventions with music listening

Listening to music is an example of a passive or receptive intervention. The idea is for the music to elicit an emotional reaction or to awaken memory.

According to a 2018 study, passive therapies were more effective than active interventions in lowering anxiety, agitation, and behavioral difficulties in adults with dementia.

Can people with Alzheimer’s take part in musical activities?
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, people in the early and intermediate stages of Alzheimer’s disease can participate in and benefit from musical activities.

A study review for 2022According to a reliable source, persons with Alzheimer’s can learn and recall new music. It may become more difficult as they progress, but kids may still be able to tap or sing along to music.

How does music assist persons suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia?

According to Beynon, singing in the Intergenerational Choir Project gave people with Alzheimer’s with “spiritual and aesthetic support, which in turn reinforces better health and well-being.” She observes that after each session, participants felt energetic and had fewer symptoms for 2 to 24 hours.

Medical research appears to support Beynon’s findings that music therapies can aid in the following ways.

  • Improve your memory
  • Music can assist Alzheimer’s patients recollect details from their lives. These music-evoked autobiographic memories, which can be vivid and comprehensive, are referred to by researchers as Trusted Source. The effect is stronger while listening to known music, although unexpected music might still have an effect.
  • Enhance cognition. A 2023 analysis of data from three continents discovered that music therapy improved cognitive functions in persons with Alzheimer’s. The authors also observed that active interventions had a greater impact.
  • Reduce the severity of behavioral and psychological problems.

According to researchTrusted Source, some music therapies can help people with dementia lessen symptoms of:

Anxiety depression agitation apathy

The most effective musical strategies were singing and combining musical techniques. When listening to music or playing musical instruments, the results were mixed.

Improve your verbal fluency.

Music therapy has been shown in clinical trials to improve language and verbal skills in patients with dementia. Singing, songwriting, and reading song lyrics all contributed to strengthen these abilities. A 2018 trialTrusted Source found a beneficial benefit in persons with moderate Alzheimer’s disease.

Improve your quality of life

A look ahead to 2022Trusted Source of 26 studies found that adding music therapy to regular treatment improved mental health-related quality of life in patients with Alzheimer’s. The researchers also discovered a slight improvement in physical health-related quality of life. However, they advised against generalizations due to the wide range of outcomes.

What kind of music benefit those suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia?

There is no single kind or genre of music that benefits everyone suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia. According to the AMTA, a variety of styles can be beneficial. When determining which music to use in therapy, a trained music therapist will evaluate your or your loved one’s interests, circumstances, and treatment goals.

Nonetheless, a 2017 reviewA reliable source of clinical trials including music therapy reveals certain preferences. Music familiar to the person with Alzheimer’s is commonly used in active therapies. These could be songs from their culture, well-known classical pieces (such as Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”), or well-known popular music.

Beynon also believes that including new music is beneficial. “We used popular music primarily from the 1940s through the 1990s to promote recollection as well as retrieval of memories, but we also included choral music they were unlikely to know to promote new learning.”

The following songs were investigated in the Intergenerational Choir Project:

“You’ll Never Walk Alone” a medley from “The Sound of Music” “Moon River” “Over the Rainbow” “Chattanooga Choo-Choo” “Carol of the Bells”

When it comes to music, therapeutic trials tended to favor Western classical music. Here are some specific examples:

“Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major, K. 448” by Mozart.
“Spring” from Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” Pachelbel’s “Canon in D”

Is music therapy harmful to persons suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia?

Music therapy, like most therapies, has potential hazards. Active participation in music may induce anxiety in certain people.

Choosing the wrong music might also have a detrimental impact on listening. Possible hazards include: unpleasant memories are triggered by overstimulation, worry, or disorientation.

Where can I locate a skilled music therapist?

Music therapists have a music therapy degree from an authorized program. They can then take an exam to be certified.

The AMTA can help you find a certified music therapist.

The Certification Board of Music Therapists can be used to validate a music therapist’s certification.


According to research, music therapies can improve the quality of life of certain persons with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. Individualized therapies conducted by a music therapist are more effective in most cases. Other approaches, though, can be beneficial with careful preparation and professional leadership.

Active and passive musical activities are both possible. Active interventions including the creation or reaction to music may produce better effects than passive therapies involving merely listening to music.

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