Enhancing Lives Through Music Therapy in Dementia Care
Updated: Jun 28
Dementia describes a collection of symptoms from a range of conditions that cause parts of the brain to deteriorate progressively. Memory, perception, behaviour, personality, and language are some of the functions affected by dementia. In recent years, research suggests that music therapy can improve agitation, depression, and quality of life in dementia patients. Music therapists use target-oriented and purposeful activities, using musical expressions, memories, feelings, and sensations to engage individuals and groups.
How is Music Therapy Utilized in Dementia Care?
Most individuals with dementia can recall the lyrics of a song, so listening to familiar pieces of music can help them recall memories. Music therapists use interventions such as singing, improvisation, playing instruments, and songwriting. In older adults with dementia, music therapists often use old wartime songs, which seem to bring many lively memories to their minds. Pre-composed music is another intervention music therapists use, and it is known to be an easy yet powerful tool in reaching healthcare goals in dementia care. Using songs that individuals used to listen to and love during their childhood up to their mid-twenties is a well-established way to utilize music because most foundational memories and songs are locked in during this age group (Norris, 2022). It is important to note that music therapy interventions depend on an individual’s stage of dementia and severity of their symptoms. For instance, if an individual has limited movement, they may not be able to play instruments or engage in improvisation as part of their therapy sessions.
Crucial Benefits of Music Therapy in Dementia Care:
Music therapy has many overall benefits in dementia care, such as:
Positive changes in moods and emotional states
A sense of control over life
Non-pharmacological management of pain and discomfort
Stimulation that promotes interest even when other approaches are ineffective
Promotes rhythmic and continuous movement or vocal fluency as an adjunct to physical rehabilitation
Opportunities to interact socially with others
In dementia care, individuals or groups work on specific interventions, such as listening to and being involved in live music, to help create experiences that lead to a greater quality of life. Additionally, dementia can lead to individuals having a difficult time expressing their basic needs, making it difficult to be understood. Using songs in music therapy promotes communication, which helps individuals with dementia express their basic needs and prevent feelings of isolation (Schaeffer, 2016).
How does music therapy benefit the caregivers of people with dementia?
In a recent study published in Alzheimer and Disease and Associated Disorders, it was noted that family members who have patients in music therapy sessions have noticed decreased levels of stress regarding the symptoms of their loved ones. Caregivers also felt a sense of connection with their loved ones that helped improve their relationships. For instance, patients who participated in music therapy demonstrated increased eye contact with caregivers, indicating interest, calmness, and focus (Harper, 2022).
How caregivers can help carry out music therapy?
Although caregivers are not certified music therapists, anyone, including family members, can use music interventions to serve as a source of comfort and joy for the elderly. However, there are some few key considerations:
Choosing songs that are meaningful to the individual: selecting songs that are special to the individual can provoke positive memories such as childhood and early adulthood, creating a meaningful interaction. On the other hand, modern music played on the radio will likely not have any significance to the individual and should be avoided. For example, a dementia patient who grew up in the church may find hymns as meaningful songs (Harper, 2022).
Picking the right genre and style of music: family members and caregivers can create an upbeat playlist for the individual, which can be played in the morning as a way to increase energy for the day. Towards the afternoon and evening, relaxing music can encourage peace and comfort that help decrease anxiety, insomnia and wandering.
Observing verbal and nonverbal cues: observing and paying close attention to how the individual reacts to the song or music is important. Observing can help you identify if they like or dislike the music. For example smiling, clapping, and humming along are all signs of liking the music, whereas, looking away or lack of engagement can indicate their dislike of the music. Family members should also observe any negative reactions to music as well. For instance, too much music can also lead to overstimulation, so caregivers need to pay attention to that potential risk.
Encouraging music: family members and caregivers can make music interventions a part of their routine with the individual living with dementia. Music is a great alternative to television. You can even create playlists of music together, which you can play depending on the person’s preferences and mood.
Music therapy overall is a powerful tool to cope with dementia, which not only improves the quality of life of seniors, but also that of their loved ones. By using music therapy, loved ones and caregivers can reconnect with individuals living with dementia in a meaningful way, which can offer a new form of communication for the person with dementia.
Schaeffer, Juliann. "Music therapy in dementia treatment–recollection through sound." Today’s Geriatric Medicine (2016).
Norris, Jessica. “How Music Therapy Benefits People with Dementia and Their Caregivers.” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, 3 Sept. 2022, www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/music-therapy-improves-well-being-in-people-with-dementia-and-caregivers
Harper, Chris. “Music and Alzheimer’s - Benefits of Music Therapy.” The Arbor Company, 21 Nov. 2022, www.arborcompany.com/blog/music-and-alzheimers-benefits-of-music-therapy.