Though we don’t yet understand why, various types of music therapy have been shown to help ease the symptoms of dementia.

Dementia is an umbrella term for several conditions characterized by a loss in cognition, leading to changes in memory, language, reasoning, and even behavior. Dementia affects roughly 55 million people worldwide, according to statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO).

Although there’s no cure for dementia, there are treatment approaches that can help slow down the progression of the disease and ease some of the symptoms of the condition.

Music therapy ― which consists of interventions like listening, singing, or dancing to music ― is one of the approaches that may be helpful for easing dementia symptoms and improving their overall quality of life.

Below, we’ll share what the research says about the benefits of music for dementia, including why music may be beneficial for dementia and which music-based interventions are most helpful.

Music is a universal language, one that can nurture our emotions, lighten our moods, and even improve our overall health. In fact, many years of research suggest that music can have significant health benefits ― especially for people living with dementia.

In addition to the way listening to music lightens mood in general, music interventions directed by a trained music therapist have also been examined as a type of therapy for people with dementia.

One large systematic review from 2020 explored the effects of music therapy on dementia. In this review, the researchers evaluated 82 studies on the benefits of music therapy for cognitive function, behavioral and psychological symptoms, and quality of life in people living with dementia.

According to the review, some studies found that music therapy may help improve memory, cognition, daily functioning, and quality of life in people with dementia. But the biggest impact of music therapy was in the area of behavioral and psychological symptoms like depression, anxiety, and agitation.

A more recent review from 2021 explored the effectiveness of music therapy for multiple conditions, including dementia. Results of the review found that music therapy not only improved mood symptoms like depression and anxiety but also improved memory in people with mild Alzheimer’s disease.

Why do people with dementia remember their favorite song?

Musical memory describes the type of memory that’s associated with music-related experiences, like listening to music and playing musical instruments. Research has shown that the area of the brain that forms musical memories may be separate from the areas of the brain that form our other memories.

Because the musical memory area of the brain doesn’t seem to be as impacted by cognitive decline, this may explain why people with dementia are more likely to remember musical memories than other types of memories.

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But how can music actually help improve the symptoms of dementia? Although experts still aren’t entirely sure how music therapy works for dementia, research suggests that there may be a few different underlying mechanisms:

  • Music can trigger emotions, something that may promote the creation of new neurons in the brain and help improve memory and mood in people with dementia.
  • Music activates the brain’s reward system and releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter that may help reduce age-related cognitive and motor function decline.
  • Music can reduce stress and help regulate the immune system, which may reduce the rate of neurodegeneration in dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Of course, these are just a few of the theories on the benefits of music for dementia ― and more research is still needed before we can say exactly how music therapy works for this condition.

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If you want to help researchers learn more about how music affects us, you can check out Always make sure to discuss participation in a clinical trial with your doctor.

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While there doesn’t seem to be one specific type of music that’s best for dementia, research suggests that there are several different types of music-based interventions that may show promise.

Some of these interventions include:

Because dementia affects each person differently, what’s helpful for one person might not be as helpful for another. For example, someone who struggles with language or writing may not enjoy engaging in lyric therapy. Instead, they might find dancing or relaxation therapy to be easier and more helpful for their symptoms.

As with any treatment approach, music therapy should always be tailored to the individual and their specific needs.

Currently, there is no known cure for dementia. However, treatments exist that can help slow down the progression of the disease, as well as manage the symptoms that the disease causes.

Some of the treatment options that exist for dementia may include:

  • Medications: Dementia medications may help alleviate cognitive symptoms and slow the progression of the disease. Cholinesterase inhibitors and memantine are two medications that are commonly prescribed for dementia.
  • Lifestyle changes: Although there’s no way to reverse the changes that dementia causes in the brain, lifestyle changes can potentially help slow the progression of the disease. Eating a nutritious diet, engaging in regular exercise, getting enough sleep, and limiting smoking and drinking are just a few of the changes that may reduce dementia risk and slow progression.
  • Alternative treatments: Complementary treatment approaches may also be beneficial in easing dementia symptoms, especially alongside medications and lifestyle changes. Treatments like physical therapy, psychotherapy, and even alternative approaches like massage therapy, can help alleviate some of the physical and emotional symptoms that dementia causes.

If someone you love has been diagnosed with dementia, treatments can help slow the progression of the condition, alleviate some of the symptoms, and improve the overall quality of life. Talk with your doctor if you don’t feel that you or your loved one’s dementia symptoms are being fully managed.

Learn more about alternative treatments for dementia here.

Dementia is a progressive condition that can have a significant impact on someone’s cognitive, emotional, and physical health.

Research has shown that music therapy may be beneficial for people living with conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

When used in conjunction with other treatment options, music-related therapies may help alleviate some of the symptoms of the condition and possibly even slow the progression of the disease.