Using Music to Help Those with Alzheimer’s Disease


Studies have shown that music may increase cognitive functioning. It has been shown as a means to break through to those with dementia, and music may help caregivers with loved ones who have Alzheimer’s disease as well. In fact, music may also help those who are generally brain damaged. It could help curb anxiety, depression, and encourage emotional adjustment because it affects dopaminergic neurotransmission. Alzheimer's

As Alzheimer’s disease develops, the patient’s normal functioning diminishes and eventually disappears. Musical appreciation and aptitude are two of the last abilities that remain as Alzheimer’s disease progresses. Active singing may be even be more beneficial. It may actually improve cognition in those with moderate to severe Alzheimer’s disease.


Most researchers have assumed that music helps with mood and memory recall, but few have realized the immense power that it may have in helping patients with Alzheimer’s disease. The following is a short list of benefits that listening to and participating in musical activities may have on those with Alzheimer’s disease.


Music evokes emotion.

Music is often related to specific emotions, and those emotions may bring back vivid memories. People often associate music with important events in their life, such as a wedding song or lullabies. Music may also be helpful when paired with a specific daily activity. If the music and activity are consistent, then playing the music during the activity later may help the patient remember how to do the activity.


Music may help calm and soothe agitated patients.

Occasionally, patients who have moderate to severe Alzheimer’s disease will become agitated because they cannot perform tasks as they could previously. Playing calming music or playing music that encourages movement like dancing and toe-tapping will divert their attention so that they focus on the music instead of the frustrating task.


Music could bring the patient and their loved ones together.

In the late stages of dementia, patients often cannot share affection in the same way as they could previously. Music that encourages touching loved ones may help the patient show their affect to their loved ones, particularly through couples dances or any dancing that encourages touching. The ability to move does not usually diminish until late in the disease’s development, so dancing can be a way to show affection even very late into the disease’s progression.


The type of music can encourage activities.

Music with quick tempos can be used to encourage movement. In situations where caregivers need to get the patient from one room to another, quick music may be an effective way to get the patient roused and alert. Slower music may calm patients and can be used to encourage sleeping and relaxation. Alzheimer's


Using music that is from within the patient’s young adult years will be the most effective. These songs will bring back fond memories and have the most potential for active engagement. If the caregiver is trying to develop new responses, however, new music may be better suited. It will be helpful to experiment with music in the early stages of the disease so the caregiver knows the type of music that the patient enjoys.


For more information about Alzheimer’s disease or any other neurological disorder, visit Palm Beach Neurological Center's website.




Wollen KA. Alzheimer’s Disease: The Pros and Cons of Pharmaceutical, Nutritional, Botanical, and Stimulatory Therapies, with a Discussion of Treatment Strategies from the Perspective of Patients and Practitioners. Alternative Medicine Review. 2010; 15(3): 223-244.


Thaut MH, Gardiner JC, Holmberg D, et al. Neurologic Music Therapy Improves Executive Function and Emtotional Adjustment in Traumatic Brain Injury Rehabilitation. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 2009; 1169:406-416


Sutoo D & Akiyama K. Music improves dopaminergic neurotransmission: demonstration based on the effect of music on blood pressure regulation. Brain Research. 2004; 1016(2): 255-262. doi:10.1016/j.brainres.2004.05.018

Maguire L., Wanschura P.B., Battaglia M.M., Howell .SN., Flinn J.M.  Active Singing Over A 4-Month Period Leads To Cognitive Improvements In A Group Of Patients With Dementia.  Accepted in J.Am. Gerontol Soc.


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