The Benefits of Music Therapy for Older Adults and Dementia Patients

We know music is good for the soul, but did you know it’s also good for the mind?

How Music Stimulates the Brain

Studies show that music brings our senses to life and stimulates many parts of the brain at the same time, including those that affect language, mood and movement. Through research at the University of California, Davis, experts have even pinpointed the region of the brain which stores memories by linking them to familiar songs and the emotions associated with those memories.

Music Therapy and Dementia: Real-Life Benefits

“We’ve seen the reaction from our own family members as well as clients who have some form of dementia – a visible change often takes place when they hear music,” said Sierra Goetz, co-founder and operations manager at the HomeCare Advocacy Network (HCAN). “If they hear a familiar song, they might sing, dance or clap their hands. It makes them happy and, in many cases, it can lessen aggressive behavior.”

Key Benefits of Music Therapy for Alzheimer’s and Dementia

Experts agree that music therapy provides those with Alzheimer’s or another dementia with a number of benefits. They say it can:

  • Improve memory and recall
  • Enhance communication and social skills
  • Encourage movement
  • Reduce muscle tension
  • Improve coping skills
  • Boost motivation
  • Help with pain management
  • Increase joy
  • Lessen depression, anxiety and aggression
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Reduce the number of dementia-related medications

Tips for Using Music Therapy at Home

If you’re interested in professional help, Goetz suggests researching music therapists in your community. However, she said friends, family members and caregivers can also play a key role in your seniors’ musical adventures. To get started, the Alzheimer’s Association suggests:

Choosing the Right Music

Letting your aging loved one choose the music, if possible. If they remember songs from their youth, they can bring back some happy memories.

Avoiding Interruptions

Avoiding the radio and other music sources with commercial interruption.

Setting the Mood

Using music to create the mood you want. A serene piece of music can create a calm environment while an upbeat songs may boost spirits and encourage movement, like clapping or dancing.

Preventing Sensory Overload

Avoiding sensory overload. Make sure the music isn’t too loud and eliminate other noisy distractions, like the television.

Considering Live Music Events

Carefully considering live music events. For some they can be unsettling and frightening. 

Pay Attention to Responses

“Be sure to pay attention to how your loved one responds to the music. You’ll be able to tell if they like it or not,” Goetz said. “And remember, music can be good therapy for you, too. It can help reduce stress and burnout and help you sleep.”

For more information about the benefits of music therapy, check out the Alzheimer’s Association website –

To find a licensed music therapist in your community, visit the American Music Therapy Association website –