Music Therapy and Dementia Care

Dementia is a comprehensive term for a set of symptoms that include memory loss, mood and behaviour changes, and difficulties with problem solving, thinking and language that may eventually impede with an individual’s ability to complete everyday tasks. With over 747 000 Canadians living with a type of Dementia, Music Therapy can be a significant and beneficial intervention within Dementia care that provides goal-oriented programming and enhances overall quality of life.

In a 2015 study researching why musical memory is preserved in advanced stage Alzheimer’s, it was found that long term musical memory was spared from early degeneration precipitated by the disease. While other areas of the brain had severe damage in later stages, there was found to be a relatively intact long term musical memory. Such a finding furthers the proposition that music therapy can be one of the most vital interventions for engaging seniors in Dementia Care and achieving individualized goals. The holistic approach used by music therapists allows care plans created for those in Dementia Care to encompass several areas such as cognition, emotional, and functional objectives, all while making it enjoyable!

Several interventions may be used by music therapists with this population, depending on the needs of the individual or group. Below are just a few that may be implemented, as well as the goal areas that they target!

Singing familiar music: During an assessment session, the music therapist evaluates what type of music will be most effective to engage the senior and reach their goals. Requests may range from popular to country, rock and roll to reggae, religious/spiritual or cultural music, etc. and the music therapist will ensure (if they don’t have the songs already!) that they can learn or adapt these pieces of music for the session. Singing familiar music may be facilitated to reach several objectives, such as increasing creative self-expression, increasing self-confidence or regaining involvement in an important life activity.

Discussion: Music therapists utilize various songs to elicit discussion. Discussion allows the individual or group to reminisce on their past, review and validate life experiences, and possibly uncover lost or forgotten memories.

Songwriting: In earlier stages of Dementia, music therapists may employ the use of songwriting with an individual. Songwriting may take may various forms from a fill-in-the-blank structure, to creating an entirely new unique piece! Songwriting may aid in increasing communication and creative self-expression, as well as increasing freedom and the ability to make choices. This may be especially important for an individual when they may feel a lack of control in various aspects of their life.

Movement to music: This can be a fun way to get people moving and aid in maintaining physical ability. Whether the music therapist is encouraging the group members to tap their toes along to the beat, clapping, tapping their knees, swaying, or even dancing, this can be a great way to enhance the quality of a senior’s day!

Structured instrument playing: This type of intervention can be an engaging way to attain various objectives. Promoting structured instrument playing in one’s care plan may help to maintain motor skills and promote movement in a nonconventional manner. Playing an instrument may also allow an individual in later stages of Dementia to still participate and communicate through music making, when they may have lost the ability to express verbally.

Relaxation to music: Playing music that the client feels connected to or finds relaxing can help create a space for the individual to find repose during the day. Using instruments like an ocean drum may help to augment this experience and ultimately decrease anxiety, or contribute to enhanced pain management.

At Wellington Music Therapy Services, our music therapists are knowledgeable and passionate about working with individuals living with Dementia. Please do not hesitate to reach out to learn more about how we can serve your family or facility!


Brennan, Sabina. “What Is Dementia?” Alzheimer Society of Canada, 24 Aug. 2018,

Jacobsen, Jon-Henrik; Stelzer, Johannes; Fritz, Thomas Han; Chetelat, Gael; La Joie, Renaud; Turner, Robert. “Why musical memory can be preserved in advanced Alzheimer’s disease.” Brain, vol. 138, no. 8, 2015, pp. 2438–2450.

Owens, Melissa. “Remembering through Music: Music Therapy and Dementia.” (2014): n. pag. Web.