How To Treat Dementia Symptoms With Music And Why?

“Music can lift us out of depression or move us to tears – it is a remedy, a tonic, orange juice for the ear. But for many of my neurological patients, music is even more –  it can provide access, even when no medication can, to movement, to speech, to life. For them, music is not a luxury, but a necessity” — Oliver Sacks, Musicophilia

There’s been a lot of discussion recently about the positive effects of music and its ability to treat dementia symptoms. You may have heard of one of the more famous examples, an elderly dementia patient named Henry, whose story went viral on YouTube in 2102. He had been suffering from the debilitating effects of dementia, including memory loss, difficulty communicating, and social withdrawal from over a decade. There was little hope for an improvement in his condition, until the day he listened to music again. Suddenly, he was able to tell the world that his artist was Cab Calloway, and his favorite song was this:

 I’ll be home for Christmas

You can plan on me

Please have snow and mistletoe

And presents on the tree

Henry is just one of the many dementia patients that have been positively affected by the power of music. When used appropriately, music can treat dementia symptoms. Several studies have shown that music can shift mood, manage stress-induced agitation, stimulate positive interactions, facilitate cognitive function, and coordinate motor movements.

Can dementia patients and their families finally have hope through music? Keep reading to find out.

treat dementia symptomsWhy Music Therapy Helps Dementia Symptoms?

According to Dan Cohen, for people who suffer from advanced dementia, listening to music from one’s youth can have great results. It’s fairly common these days for patients to actually ‘awaken,’ and start singing the music as they listen along. There are a variety of theories about why this occurs, here are the most prominent:

1 – Our Bodies Naturally Respond To Rhythm

Studies show that memorizing rhythmic patterns requires little to no cognitive or mental processing. In other words, our bodies naturally respond to rhythm, even if we’re not thinking about it. Have you ever had a song stuck in your head as you walked down the street, and noticed that you’re humming and walking to the beat? This is called entainment. Naturally our motor systems entrain, or synchronize, to rhythm.

2 – Sound Is Processed In The Brain Quickly

Music enters the central nervous systems through the auditory nerve, at which point most of the sound is sent to the brain to be processed. The smaller portion is sent to the motor nerve part of the spinal cord, allowing our muscles to move in tandem to the rhythmic pattern, without conscious effort. This is why we dance to the bear of a song, tap a pencil in rhythm to a song, and step in sync with a beat.

3 – Music Has The Power To Enhance Learning And Memory

How did you learn the ABC’s? Or the names of all 50 states? By singing a song, of course! Music is one of the easiest tools for teaching and memorization because of it’s inherent structure and emotional pull. Music is a great mnemonic device, which makes it easier to learn information and concepts, and also recall those same patterns later.

4 – Music Has A Strong Emotional Pull

Is there a particular song you like to listen to when you’re sad, happy, discouraged, or worried? Did you feel something after listening? Happier? Stronger? More confident? Regardless of whether this is caused by the music itself, or from our individual feelings about the music, it’s clear that music can tap into our emotional systems.

Related Article: 5 Things You Should Know About Alzheimer’s Disease Now

How Does Music Treat Dementia Symptoms

Music is actually able to restore brain function among dementia patients. It offers a ‘back door’ of memory retrieval that is seemingly lost. A NY State DOH Dementia Grant program study found that people who listened to music for three hours a week scored better on cognitive tests than dementia patients that did not listen to music. This is possible because, while hearing and talking components are located in specific places in the brain, music is located throughout the brain. So often music remains preserved, even if parts of the brain are lost through dementia.

How can you use music therapy to treat dementia symptoms? To get the best results from music therapy consider trying the following:

1 – Play Music They Love

A lot of dementia and Alzheimer’s facilities find great results when they play music from the patient’s childhood or young-adulthood.

2 – Get The Patients Involved

When residents get involved, by clapping, singing, or nodding along, it often elicits a very powerful response.


If you’re looking for a stellar memory care experience, look no further. Contact Stellar Senior Living today for more information about our award winning Alzheimer’s and dementia care facilities nationwide. Click here to find a facility near you or give us a call at 801.495.7000.

Stellar Senior Living is one of the leading providers of Alzheimer’s and Dementia care in the U.S.. Through our unique Rising Stars Program, we provide our memory care residents with a happy and fulfilled experience. We offer a wide range of activities, and use the Montessori method, which encourages residents to experience and do more. In addition, residents live within Memory Care Neighborhoods; living spaces specifically designed to support the cognitive challenges brought on by Alzheimer’s disease.