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Music Therapy for Dementia Care

By Sarah Nicolay | 06/11/2019

An older adult playing the guitar at a group music session

Staying engaged in meaningful and interesting activities can be challenging after receiving a dementia diagnosis, but as a caregiver, it is important for you to help your loved one continue to participate in activities they enjoy. If your loved one likes listening to or playing music, music therapy may be a helpful option. Music therapy can help individuals with dementia with their mental and/or physical abilities, 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. Music therapy can help older adults achieve personal health and wellness goals, such as decreasing feelings of anxiety and giving them a way to socialize with friends and other peers. 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 your loved one’s needs, and use music as a tool to help them achieve their wellness goals. Some activities include:

  • Drumming or playing an instrument
  • Listening to music
  • Singing
  • 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 your loved one's needs, you 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. Our research found that caregivers who participated in music therapy with their loved one with dementia reported a better understanding of dementia and recognized the benefits of incoporating music into their loved one's care moving forward.

If you choose to work with a music therapist along with your loved one, you can also benefit from the opportunity to address your own wellness needs while witnessing firsthand that your 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.

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