Music Interventions for Alzheimer’s Disease & Dementia

The Impact of Music on Memory

The behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia (BPSD) can diminish quality of life for people living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias. These symptoms can manifest in a variety of ways, including depression, sleep and appetite disturbances, anxiety and agitation, confusion and delusions, pacing and wandering.

Music is an effective, non-pharmaceutical method for treating the negative behaviors associated with Alzheimer’s and dementia. It has a profound ability to lower stress and decrease anxiety―common symptoms among people with dementia.

Music can improve memory, cognition, and even mood. It can help people with memory loss follow their routines. It can even help their caregivers communicate and connect better.

The Guide To Music & Memory Loss

Music has a profound impact on people living with memory impairment. Download our guide to learn how music can improve quality of life for your loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Download A Free Guide to Music & Memory Loss

The Mystery of Musical Memory

Musical memory can survive even when areas of the brain associated with other forms of recall have been damaged by dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

Research suggests musical memory is preserved in people with Alzheimer’s disease because it involves different anatomical brain networks. It’s partially independent of other memory systems and can remain intact while brain anatomy and cognitive functions are impaired.

Solving the Mystery

The curious connection between music and dementia has been widely examined by scholars. Many research studies point to positive changes music can make on memory. Others demonstrate how music awakens the various networks in the brain, delaying cognitive decline caused by Alzheimer’s disease.

Research that measures the impact of music interventions demonstrates the effectiveness of music as a treatment for the difficult behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia. That means music can be used to reach your loved one when words and actions fail, whether you’re trying to get their attention or comfort or calm them during periods of agitation or anxiety.

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Music Is Non-Pharmaceutical

Up to 75% of those with dementia are thought to have neuropsychiatric symptoms such as agitation, mood swings, and disturbing thoughts and perceptions. These symptoms are often treated with antidepressant, antipsychotic, and anticonvulsant prescription medications. While these treatments work well for some, they don’t for others, or the risks of taking them outweigh the benefits.

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Music Is Personal

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All of us have different musical tastes and memories. Your loved one with dementia is no different.

While many studies have shown that classical music, particularly works by Mozart and Pachelbel, improves dementia symptoms, your loved one may respond best to something completely different, from opera to jazz to rock.

  • One study published in International Psychogeriatrics found that personalized music reduced agitation significantly more than standardized classical music for a group with severe cognitive impairment.
  • Another study published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia, the Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, focused on using personalized music that individual patients had enjoyed for a long time—at least 20 years. These old favorites helped improve functional brain connectivity and cognitive ability in patients with mild cognitive impairment and early Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Music that is individualized, or personally meaningful to the individual, was also found to be  beneficial to assisted living residents in a study published in the International Journal of Neurorehabilitation. Positive outcomes included evoking past memories, often helping the resident to feel calmer and more connected to other residents, staff, family, and friends.

Have You Seen Alive Inside? It’s an award-winning documentary that follows the amazing progress of people living with Alzheimer’s as they’re exposed to music therapy. Watch them go from totally unresponsive to talking about love, dreams, and romance again.

Top Hits in Music Therapy Research

Music Therapy at Home

As you explore music therapy for your parent, spouse, or loved one at home, keep a close watch on your loved one’s reaction to music you offer.

Does it have the desired effect? Some songs can soothe, others can energize, and still others can upset. Your loved one’s reaction may not always make sense to you, but it doesn’t have to.

Your goal is to communicate through music to improve quality of life.

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  • Interview your loved one about music they like. You may remember songs your loved one used to listen to, and that’s a great place to start. Ask your loved one to tell you more about the music they associate with happy times in their life. If it’s hard for them to tell you, do a little investigating with other friends and family members.
  • Choose the right place and time. Research published in Dementia & Neuropsychologia referred to music as an “island of preservation” for those living with dementia and Alzheimer’s. Limit outside noise and distractions and avoid playing music with commercial interruptions. Choose a time of day when you think your loved one may be most receptive and give them the choice of wearing headphones or not.
  • Involve yourself—and others. Listening to music together can go a long way in reducing your own stress. As you realize it’s not too late to make special memories, you may find yourself enjoying your loved one’s company more than you have in a long time. Encourage friends and family members to join in, if your loved one is open to it.
  • Let the music move you. If your loved one taps their feet, claps, or sings along with music therapy—it’s working. Don’t be afraid to try to join in and see how your loved one reacts. Many assisted living facilities achieve good results with group singalongs.

Consider seeking the advice of a memory care community such as Serenades Memory Care to help you through the process.

Music Therapy in Assisted Living

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In Florida, more than half a million people are living with Alzheimer’s disease, the most common cause of dementia. The stress on caregivers can be overwhelming, especially if their loved one is agitated and resistant to their help.

Music interventions are an increasingly popular option for increasing quality of life for people in both the early and late stage of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

“Music can help us remember something long forgotten, feel a joyous emotion or simply recognize the sensation of a memory.”
―Julie Fernandez, CALA, CDP, CADDCT, CPT, Sonata Senior Living

A signature program offered by Sonata Senior Living, Duets draws from the science of music and dementia to develop a personalized music playlist for residents of Serenades Memory Care Communities. Through wireless headphones, residents can listen to their favorite songs during periods of agitation and anxiety. Music is also offered as a source of entertainment and a means of creating a safe space.

The Magic of Music

  • Listening to music improves our spatial reasoning skills.
  • Playing an instrument strengthens the areas of our brain that control our hearing, motor skills, and information storage.
  • Learning to play an instrument improves problem-solving, enables multi-tasking, and even adds points to our IQs.
  • Singing along improves mental ability, as measured by the Mini-Mental State Exam (MMSE).

The Guide To Music & Memory Loss

Music has a profound impact on people living with memory impairment. Download our guide to learn how music can improve quality of life for your loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Download A Free Guide to Music & Memory Loss

Music & Memory Loss Resources

Research & Sources

Can musical intervention improve memory in Alzheimer’s patients? Evidence from a systematic review. US Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health.

Why musical memory can be preserved in advanced Alzheimer’s disease. Brain: a Journal of Neurology.

Cognitive, emotional, and social benefits of regular musical activities in early dementia: randomized controlled study. US Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health.

Exploring the impact of music concerts in promoting well-being in dementia care. Aging & Mental Health.

Music therapy has industry’s ear. Seniors Housing Business.

Increased Functional Connectivity After Listening to Favored Music in Adults With Alzheimer Dementia. The Journal of Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Personalized music may help nursing home residents with dementia. Brown.

Adjunct effect of music therapy on cognition in Alzheimer’s disease in Taiwan: a pilot study. US Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health.

Individualized Music Program is Associated with Improved Outcomes for U.S. Nursing Home Residents with Dementia. The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

Short Communication Open Access Music and Memory in Dementia Care. International Journal of Neurorehabilitation.

Alzheimer’s patients’ brains boosted by belting out Sound of Music. The Guardian.

Dementia. Mayo Clinic.

An Individualized Music-Based Intervention for Acute Neuropsychiatric Symptoms in Hospitalized Older Adults With Cognitive Impairment: A Prospective, Controlled, Nonrandomized Trial. Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine.

Effects of individualized versus classical “relaxation” music on the frequency of agitation in elderly persons with Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders. US Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health.

Repeated Exposure to Familiar Music Alters Functional Connectivity in Alzheimer’s Disease. Alzheimer’s & Dementia.

Caregivers Take Note – Music as Therapy. Alzheimer’s Association.

Art and Music. Alzheimer’s Association.

Transcript: AARP Family and Caregiving Expert Discusses Music Therapy Treatment. AARP.

A Community-Based Music Therapy Support Group for People With Alzheimer’s Disease and Their Caregivers: A Sustainable Partnership Model. Frontiers in Medicine.

The Guide To Music & Memory Loss

Music has a profound impact on people living with memory impairment. Download our guide to learn how music can improve quality of life for your loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Download A Free Guide to Music & Memory Loss