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Music Therapy For Dementia: What You Need To Know

June 20th, 2022

Dementia is a condition that’s likely to affect more of us as the population continues to age, with statistics from NHS England showing that around 850,000 people in the UK are currently living with the illness, with around 676,000 of these based in England. 

What’s more, some 540,000 people in England are caring for someone with dementia, and as there’s no cure or single treatment for the degenerative condition, it’s helpful to know what therapies are available to help manage the illness. 

Music therapy is one of these, helping people living with dementia to connect with their memories in a way that language cannot. Read on to explore exactly what music therapy involves, and how it might benefit individuals following a dementia diagnosis.

Dementia Therapy Options

woman petting dog

There are several types of therapy that may have benefits for people living with dementia, whether it’s to help them to come to terms with their diagnosis, or to help improve their quality of life as the illness progresses. The different types of dementia therapy include:

  • Talking therapy – this type of support may be beneficial for people who are newly diagnosed with dementia to help them to process what’s going to happen to them in the future. Talking therapies can be offered one-to-one or as part of a group
  • Cognitive stimulation therapy – this type of therapy is designed to stimulate individuals who are living with dementia, and it can take many different forms, including word games, puzzles, and activities such as baking and gardening. It may help to unlock memories, or simply stimulate them in the present moment, helping to improve their quality of life
  • Pet therapy – spending time with animals is believed to have a calming effect on people with dementia. If they’re still living at home with their wider family, they may benefit from being around animals, but always make sure that they’re supervised if they’re feeding, grooming, or walking a pet. If the individual is living in a care home, a visit from an animal can be something for them to look forward to, again benefiting their quality of life

Of course, music therapy is an option too. Keep reading to find out more about this type of therapy and how it may be able to benefit people living with dementia.

What Is Music Therapy?

Music therapy is all about using the power of sound and music to access parts of the brain that language can’t necessarily reach. Music stimulates different parts of the brain to speech – as communication can be affected by dementia, music can act as an alternative way to communicate for some individuals.

Old-favourite songs can conjure up memories of a particular time, with some people living with dementia better able to connect with music than words as a way to express themselves.

record collection and headphones

The right music choice may help a person living with dementia to express their feelings more easily, influencing their mood, and potentially stirring up old memories. It can help to create a point of connection for older people who are living together in a care home environment, which may help to reduce the feelings of social isolation that individuals diagnosed with dementia can experience. In some cases, music therapy may even encourage physical exercise through dance.

Music therapy may be incorporated into an individual’s dementia care plan, but it’s important to get the music choice right, especially if their ability to communicate is compromised. To choose music that they’re likely to connect with, take a look at their music collection, or think about the period when they were in their prime. Bear in mind that you should always be prepared to turn the music off if the person with dementia begins to show any signs of distress. 

The Power Of Music Therapy

Music therapy can be incredibly powerful, with the story of Paul Harvey a recent high-profile example of its effects. Paul Harvey is a former music teacher and pianist who has been diagnosed with dementia; during the lockdown of 2020, he composed a beautiful classical piece comprising just four notes, with his story and the moving beauty of the piece attracting attention from around the world.

This experience eventually led Paul to conduct the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra to play his piece, titled Four Notes, demonstrating the power of music for people living with dementia. Paul’s story is a brilliant example of how musical ability can outlast other memories when dementia sets in, indicating the potential power of music therapy. 

Music Therapy Activities For Dementia

Music therapy can take lots of different forms; it’s not always just about listening to music, but about interacting with it and interpreting it too. 


Some examples of music therapy activities for dementia include:

  • Listen to a music radio station that plays songs from a decade that holds happy memories for them, and ask them questions about how the songs make them feel, or whether they remember when they last heard them
  • Create a playlist based on the individual’s CD collection or the songs they respond the most positively to, and play this regularly, or when they need to calm down or be cheered up
  • Encourage them to sing along or even play a percussion instrument, such as a tambourine, along with the music
  • Watch a favourite musical together on TV or even take them to see a show. Some theatres offer relaxed performances – contact the venue ahead of time to find out whether this would be suitable or to see if it’s a dementia-friendly venue
  • Play or sing nursery rhymes or songs from the person’s childhood, as these can be ingrained deep in our memories. This may be a way to encourage them to connect with old memories and talk about their younger years
  • Encourage the individual’s loved ones to join in with music therapy sessions to allow them to create new memories together

Specialist Dementia Care At New Care Homes

At New Care, specialist dementia care is available at all of our homes across Greater Manchester, Merseyside, Leeds, and Nottingham. We offer interactive activities, such as tovertafel (also known as magic tables), which are designed to encourage play – something that’s been shown to be beneficial for people living with dementia, and can provide an opportunity for meaningful interaction with younger family members.

Our care home staff are trained in delivering dementia care, and our homes are decorated using subtle zoning and signposting to help residents living with dementia to navigate their way around.

Contact us today if you have any questions about our dementia care services or to arrange a visit to one of our care homes. We look forward to hearing from you.