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Music Therapy for Dementia Care

By Sarah Nicolay | 06/11/2019

Staying engaged in meaningful and interesting activities can be challenging after receiving a dementia diagnosis, but as caregivers, it is important for us to help our loved one continue to participate in activities they enjoy. If our loved one likes listening to or playing music, music therapy may be a helpful option. Music therapy can help individuals with dementia with their cognitive and/or physical functioning, while helping them stay connected with others. 

According to the American Music Therapy Association, music therapy, which is a type of treatment that does not require the use of medications, is used by professionals in therapeutic settings, such as adult day programs and residential care facilities to achieve individualized goals, including decreased agitation and increased sociability. Music therapy sessions for individuals with dementia are designed to:

  • Help with anxiety and depression
  • Unlock past memories
  • Improve sleep patterns
  • Manage pain
  • Spark more frequent discussions
  • Improve quality of life
  • Increase bonding with caregivers 

During music therapy sessions, a certified music therapist will create a treatment plan based on our loved one’s needs and use music as a tool to help them achieve their wellness goals. Some activities include drumming, listening, singing or vibration therapy, which uses sound to produce vibrations on the body as a method of physical therapy, pain management or reducing anxiety. Because each session is tailored to our loved one’s needs, we can be assured that they are receiving the care that is most beneficial to them.

Innovative research in the field of music therapy has also shown that music can be a beneficial way for caregivers to manage some of the challenging behaviors of dementia, reconnect with their loved ones and receive respite from the demands of caregiving. Seniors Making Connections Through Music, a research project through Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging’s Center for Research and Education, explored the benefits that group music programs for people living with dementia can have on their family caregivers. If we choose to work with a music therapist along with our loved one, we can benefit from the opportunity to address our own wellness needs while witnessing firsthand that our loved one is receiving safe, professional care.

Music therapy programs are widely available across the United States. Many senior centers, rehabilitation facilities, hospitals, nursing homes and hospice organizations have music therapists who support individuals with dementia. To find a local, certified music therapist who can assess your loved one’s individual needs, visit the American Music Therapy Association.