Why Music Therapy is a Powerful Tool for Individuals with Dementia

From easing anxiety to improving cognitive function, discover the many benefits of music therapy.

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- Posted on Dec 11, 2018

Why Music Therapy is a Powerful Tool for Individuals with Dementia

Sarah Nicolay is a Research Assistant at Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging

As a dementia caregiver, you know how challenging it can be to keep your loved one engaged in activities that are interesting and meaningful. Yet this is one of the most important things you can do, because staying engaged and connected has numerous benefits for people with dementia. One of the best ways to do this is through music therapy, especially if the person has always enjoyed listening to or playing music. In addition to aiding in the peron's cognitive and/or physical functioning, it can provide respite for the caregiver, as well as a special way to reconnect with the loved one.

Music therapy is a type of treatment that does not require the use of medications. According to the American Music Therapy Association, it is used by professionals in therapeutic settings, such as adult day programs and residential care facilities to achieve individualized goals, including decreased agitation and increased sociability. Music therapy sessions for people with dementia are designed to:

  • Help with anxiety and depression
  • Unlock past memories
  • Improve sleep patterns
  • Manage pain
  • Spark more frequent discussions
  • Improve quality of life
  • Increase bonding with caregivers

Music therapy sessions are tailored specifically to the needs of each person. A certified music therapist devises a treatment plan based on the person’s wellness goals in order to provide the best possible individualized care. A session may include drumming, listening, singing or vibration therapy, which uses sound to produce vibrations on the body as a method of physical therapy, pain management or reducing anxiety.

Innovative research in the field of music therapy has also shown that music can be a beneficial way for caregivers to manage some of the challenging behaviors of dementia, reconnect with their loved ones and receive respite from the demands of caregiving. Seniors Making Connections Through Music, a research project through Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging’s Center for Research and Education, is currently exploring the benefits that group music programs for people living with dementia can have on their family caregivers. If you choose to work with a music therapist along with your loved one, you can benefit from the opportunity to address your own wellness needs while witnessing firsthand that your loved one is receiving safe, professional care.

There are numerous music therapy programs throughout the United States. Music therapists who support people with dementia can be found in many senior centers, rehabilitation facilities, hospitals, nursing homes and hospice organizations. To locate a certified music therapist in your area who can assess your loved one’s individual needs, visit the American Music Therapy Association.

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