Music and Dementia

By: Jessica Lee       9 December 2013

Dementia is a devastating disease that has plagued our world. 6% to 8% of all 65 year olds have dementia, every year after the number doubles. This means that 60% to 80% of seventy five year olds will have dementia. And this problem is not going away any time soon, it will only get worse. Not only are the people with the disease affected, the caregivers, often their children, are left with the responsibility of caring for their increasingly dependent parent. People with dementia can have it for a multitude of reasons, most commonly it is due to Alzheimer’s Disease, but it can also be caused by cerebrovascular accidents or other genetic diseases. Patients usually begin by forgetting small things, like where they left their car keys, birthdays, or names. But the dementia will progress over a matter of years, the person will likely start forgetting who their family is, or even how to do daily activities.


In the following video, Nora Jo shows what it is like to have Alzheimer’s Disease. Although it is quite sad, it is a good example of what is it like everyday what you cannot remember some of the most important things in your life.

Nora Jo is an example of what dementia is really like. There is no cure, dementia causes memory loss which also causes many other issues such as confusion, anxiety, depression, anger, aggression, and lack of social activities. With all these issues, the personality of the person is affected. They are barely themselves anymore. Sometimes patients forget who their family members are, how to talk, or even how to take care of themselves. This means that most of the dementia patients also end up in care facilities.

A major way to help these patients is through music therapy. Music therapy utilizes instruments and pre-recorded music to help dementia patient remember past experiences. Music can alleviate depression, anxiety, confusion, and anger, as well as acting as a social activity to bring people together.

This podcast explains more about how music effects people with dementia:

The music selected in music therapy is a reflection of the patient that needs the therapy. If a patient is having problems with anxiety a therapist will likely use a relaxing song. If the patient is depressed they may use an upbeat song from their childhood. All the songs a therapist will play are going to be easy to sing along to, and from a time that most people know the lyrics. One of the most common songs is Somewhere Over the Rainbow. This is obviously a song that has been around for a very long time and most people know the lyrics.

Here are some other popular music therapy songs:

To relax patients-

To lift spirits-

To bring back memories- 

I quote from an Alzheimer’s Association article says,

“Music engages areas of the brain involved in paying attention, making predictions, and updating events in memory. Findings suggest that music can help the brain organize incoming information. Recent research also showed that listening to music also released dopamine (a neurotransmitter) in the brain sending pleasure signals to the rest of the body” (Cramer, 2013).

This quote exemplifies how powerful music is on the brain. Multiple parts of the brain are effected by music. The hippocampus stores music memory, while the prefrontal cortex decides what emotional reaction to have. Both of these functions pertain to the effects of music on a dementia patient. Music memory is one of the last memories to deteriorate in dementia so when music is played the patient can remember the music as well as memories associated with that song. The emotional response is also important because a therapist can manipulate a positive reaction by using uplifting music which will ultimately benefit the patient in a multitude of ways.


In conclusion, music therapy is necessary for dementia patients because it can access the brain like no other therapy. It can change the mood of a patient, heal their depression, cure their anxiety, and overcome their anger. Nothing can compare to the wonderful effects of music therapy. Although, science is always advancing, so hopefully there will be a cure soon, but until then music therapy is the best option.

Works Cited

Alicia, Clair. “Education and Care.” Alzheimer’s Foundation of America. Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, n.d. Web. 17     Nov. 2013. <

Barber, Johnathan. Music for Dementia and Parkinson’s Disease in the Elderly. New York: Nova Science Publishers, Inc., 2012. 253-74. Print.

Brauser, Deborah. “Music Therapy Brings Dementia Patients ‘Back to Life’.” Medscape. WebMD, 23 Aug. 2012. Web. 17 Nov. 2013. <

ChilternMusicTherapy (chilternmusic). “Even when memories are hard to retrieve, music is especially easy to recall.” 17 Nov. 2013, 1:15 p.m. Tweet.

Clairn, Alicia. Therapeutic Uses of Music with Older Adults. Baltimore: Health Professions  Press, Inc., 1996. Print.

Cramer, Luciana. “Music Therapy Enhancing Cognition.” Caregiver Tips and Tools. Version 9. Alzheimer’s Association, n.d. Web. 7 Dec. 2013. <;.

McDermott, O., Crellin, N., Ridder, H. M. and Orrell, M. (2013), Music therapy in dementia: a narrative synthesis systematic review. Int. J. Geriat. Psychiatry, 28: 781–794. doi: 10.1002/gps.3895

Senelick, Richard. “Types of Dementia.” WebMD. WebMD, 12 July 2012. Web. 25 Nov. 2013.  <;.

Staff, Mayo. “Dementia.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 16 Apr. 2013. Web. 23 Nov. 2013. <;.

Topper, Samantha. Personal Interview. 7 Dec. 2013.

Vink, A. C., Zuidersma, M., Boersma, F., de Jonge, P., Zuidema, S. U. and Slaets, J. P. J. (2013), The effect of music therapy compared with general recreational activities in reducing agitation      in people with dementia: a randomised controlled trial. Int. J. Geriat. Psychiatry, 28: 1031–1038. doi: 10.1002/gps.3924


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