The power of music in dementia care

Music, with its universal appeal and deep emotional resonance, holds a unique position in the realm of dementia care. Its power to evoke memories, engage the brain, and soothe the soul makes it an indispensable tool in the caregiver's repertoire. Here, we delve into music's profound impact on individuals with dementia, drawing upon recent findings and personal observations in the field.

Music as a Memory Bridge

For those navigating the challenges of dementia, music acts as a bridge to lost memories. The melodies and rhythms of familiar songs can trigger the recall of past experiences and emotions, providing a sense of continuity and identity. This connection is rooted in how our brains process music, engaging areas less affected by the progression of dementia.

The Science of Musical Memories

Neuroscientific research reveals that music activates multiple brain regions, including those responsible for emotional processing, rhythmic coordination, and memory. Remarkably, these areas often remain intact in individuals with dementia, allowing music to reach parts of the brain that words cannot.

This explains why music can elicit responses when other forms of communication fail. Specifically, the supplementary motor cortex, crucial for planning and coordinating movements, remains unaffected by the plaques, atrophy, or cell loss typical in cognitive decline. This resilience supports the ability to sing, even when speech is lost, highlighting music’s unique pathway for communication in dementia care.

Incorporating Music Therapy into Dementia Care

To effectively incorporate music therapy into dementia care, consider the following action steps from the "Music Therapy Guide for Dementia Care":

  1. Identify Musical Preferences: Begin by exploring the musical tastes of the person with dementia. What genres, artists, or specific songs do they enjoy?
  2. Create a Personalised Playlist: Compile a list of favourite songs and melodies that resonate with them, using digital platforms or traditional media.
  3. Introduce Music Gently: Play music at a low volume in a comfortable setting, observe the person's response, and adjust the volume and selection as needed.
  4. Engage in Musical Activities: Encourage singing along, clapping, or gentle movement to the rhythm of the music to enhance engagement.
  5. Evaluate the Impact: Take note of changes in mood, behaviour, and cognitive responses, using these insights to refine your musical selections and approach.

Therapeutic Interventions and Care Strategies

Tailored musical interventions, designed by skilled music therapists, offer a range of benefits, from reducing agitation and anxiety to improving mood and social interaction. Caregivers and professionals alike can leverage music to create moments of joy and connection, employing songs that hold personal significance to the individual.

Music Therapy in Practice

Practical applications of music therapy in dementia care are as varied as the individuals it serves. From group sing-alongs to personalised playlists, the key is matching the musical activity to the person's preferences, history, and cognitive abilities. Caregivers can observe their loved one's response to different types of music and adjust the selection accordingly, always aiming to foster engagement and positive emotions. In the Netherlands, specialised care singers are trained to intuitively feel the mood of individuals with dementia, skillfully adjusting their voice's volume and tempo—loud, soft, fast, slow—to help relax and uplift, or even encourage singing together, creating moments of joy and connection.

The Path Ahead

As we continue to explore the interplay between music and the brain, the potential of music therapy in dementia care becomes increasingly apparent. It offers not just a way to reminisce but also a means to maintain cognitive engagement, promote emotional well-being, and enhance quality of life.


In the journey through dementia, music emerges as a source of entertainment and a lifeline to identity, joy, and peace. Its ability to transcend cognitive barriers and touch the essence of the human spirit makes it a powerful ally in caring for those with dementia. As research advances, the hope is that music therapy will become an integral part of dementia care strategies, offering solace and connection to those who need it most.


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