fbpixel Exploring Music Therapy for Seniors with Alzheimer's

The Harmony Within: Exploring Music Therapy for Seniors with Alzheimer’s

Exploring Music Therapy for Seniors with Alzheimer's

Alzheimer’s is a progressive neurodegenerative condition associated with cognitive decline. Memory problems are typically among the first signs of cognitive impairment in Alzheimer’s, and they worsen considerably as the condition progresses.

However, musical memory is partially spared in individuals with Alzheimer’s, despite severe deficits in episodic (and partly semantic) memory.

A huge aspect of Alzheimer’s disease care involves making the affected individuals learn new songs, encode novel verbal information, and eventually react emotionally to music.

Besides, music therapy is easy to implement and well‐tolerated by most affected individuals and their Alzheimer’s caregivers.

About 1 in 9 people (10.8%) over age 65 have Alzheimer’s dementia.

Alzheimer’s Association

What is music therapy?

It is an evidence-based approach that uses music to improve health outcomes. A qualified music therapist can create a custom program to help you or a loved one with physical, emotional, social, or cognitive needs.

As per the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA), music therapy can help with:

  • Expression and communication
  • Memory
  • Stress management
  • Physical rehabilitation and
  • Pain relief

What are the effects of music therapy on individuals with Alzheimer’s?

Dr. Carol Beynon, professor emerita at Western University in London, notes that the success of such interventions often depends on thoughtful and informed leaders.

“Key components include what music is being used, how it is being used, and who is doing the teaching,” adds Beynon.

Beynon researched the development and outcomes of the Intergenerational Choir Project, which joined people with dementia and their dementia caregivers with high school students and their music teacher.

The local Alzheimer’s Society initiated the project, which provided training for the teacher and students before their interactions.

Medical research seems to confirm Beynon’s observations that music interventions can help in the following ways:

  • Improve cognitive outcomes

    A 2023 review of studies across three continents found that music therapy helped improve cognitive functions in individuals with Alzheimer’s. The authors also noted that active interventions had more of an effect.

  • Improve memory

    Music can help individuals with Alzheimer’s recall details from their lives. Researchers call these music-evoked autobiographical memories, which can often be vivid and detailed. The effect is strongest with familiar music, but even with unfamiliar music, it can be immense.

  • Reduce behavioral and psychological symptoms

    Research suggests that some music interventions can help people with dementia reduce symptoms of:

    • Depression
    • Anxiety
    • Agitation, and
    • Apathy

    Singing and combined musical techniques were most effective. Results were mixed when listening to music or playing musical instruments.

  • Enhance the quality of life

    A 2022 review of 26 studies found significant improvement in mental health-related quality of life among individuals with Alzheimer’s when music therapy was added to their standard treatment. The study authors also found mild improvement in physical health-related quality of life.

  • Improve verbal fluency

    Clinical trials have found that music therapy can improve language and verbal skills in people with dementia. Singing, songwriting, and reading lyrics to songs all helped to improve these skills. A 2018 trial noted the positive effect specifically in people with mild Alzheimer’s disease.


Despite severe memory problems, people with Alzheimer’s can remember music, which can facilitate the recall of episodic memories, even if the music is not related to the recalled events.

Through music therapy, Alzheimer’s caregivers can help such individuals preserve their identity.

Further, music therapy improves mood, reduces depression and anxiety, enhances autobiographical recall and verbal fluency, enhances cognitive function, and manages behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia in individuals with Alzheimer’s.

Thus, it can be said that music therapy is a safe and promising adjunctive therapy to alleviate behavioral and psychological symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

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Related blog posts:

Behind the Scenes of Alzheimer’s Care: Home Care Experts Speak Out
How Caregivers Can Manage Behavioural Changes in Alzheimer’s Patients?

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