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Music and Dementia: Bringing Memories Back to Life

The benefits of music are endless, from boosting academic performance to reducing depression and anxiety. Music can also be a powerful tool for people living with dementia.

In this blog, our guest writer Holly outlines how music can help support family members living with Dementia.

music and dementia

In September 2019 the World Health Organisation undertook a major study which revealed that singing and listening to music can improve the emotional and behavioural patterns for people living with dementia. The benefits included – reducing anxiety and depression, supporting cognition, improving speech and memory, reducing the need for antipsychotic drugs and fewer and shorter stays in hospital.

Research into this field continues but if you need any convincing watch this beautiful clip of Marta Gonzáleza, a former Prima Ballerina who has Alzheimer’s. When she listens to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake she remembers and feels the choreography again. It shows the power of music and is a beautiful reminder that there is a person behind the disease.

Music can also help caregivers by lightening the mood, reducing stress and helping to create connections and bring back memories.

Facts about music and mental health

Here are a few more interesting facts about music:

  • 1 People with dementia can recall music as far back as their teens and early 20s
  • 2 Music therapy can help to reduce cognitive decline
  • 3 Singing can increase brain activity
  • 4 Music can trigger past memories
  • 5 Classical music can help to improve memory

6 practical ways to use music to help a family member with dementia

1. Create a playlist of their favourite music and songs

This is a great way to engage all the family by asking everyone to think of a song and why it’s important? 

Use our guide to useful apps to learn more about Spotify which is great for creating playlists.

classical music for dementia

2. Set the mood

Music can be especially calming when you’re trying to get things done for example mealtimes and bathing/dressing. Or can reduce agitation which is a common symptom during the ‘sundowning’ hours.

3. Don’t over stimulate

When you’re playing music, make sure there are no competing noises. Make sure that you have turned the TV off, close the door if necessary and set the volume according to their hearing ability.

4. Encourage them to move

Movements such as clapping of hands, tapping of feet, raising their hands, and dancing are good exercises that you can incorporate into music therapy.

5. Pay attention to their response

Music can evoke positive and negative emotions. Take note of the songs they enjoy the most and play them often. Likewise, if they don’t like certain music, make sure not to play them again next time.

6. Listen to songs together

It can be hard for families to engage with someone with dementia, especially younger members. Music is one of the best ways of bringing people together. Maybe even play instruments or dance if possible.

Holly has been working in the care industry for 5+ years. She regularly blogs about both the personal and practical challenges of caring. 

Music and dementia guest blog