How Music Therapy Helps Those With Dementia

Studies support the power of music therapy as a proven way to engage and improve dementia patients’ lives. Remarkable changes in behaviour are documented, where severely handicapped people suffering from memory loss suddenly burst into song remembering the words and melodies of tunes from the past. Some patients with severe dementia who no longer remember who they are have been reported to respond to the miracle of music.

Music Therapy and Loneliness

Dementia is a progressive disease that leaves patients unable to communicate. This causes sufferers to feel isolated and unable to communicate basic needs. According to Kimmo Lehtonen Ph.D., professor of education at the University of Turku, “music can actually make the mind move.” Music is believed to conjure up memories through an emotional connection that ultimately makes human interaction possible again.

The Proof that Music Therapy Helps Dementia Patients

One case study documented by Lehtonen was recorded with a video camera. Working as a music therapist, Lehtonen recorded a session with an 80-year-old patient suffering from dementia. The treatment administered in this case was the singing of folk songs in Finnish. In response, the patient sang old romantic songs in Italian. Many of these songs were very difficult. Lehtonen noted that the older patient’s expressions and voice were filled with authentic emotion that truly moved him. What made this patient’s singing so remarkable is that his history indicated that he barely remembered his name. Another noteworthy fact about this case that supports the idea that the emotion of musical memories is what breaks through the symptoms of dementia is the fact that the 80-year-old patient had spent the prime of his life in Florence.

A Brief History

There are documented uses of this therapy as far back as 2000 years ago. In the 20th century, musicians were requested to play for the WWI and WWII soldiers wounded in hospitals. Doctors realized the emotional and physical benefit of music for healing patients in both psychological and physical ways. The first official music therapy program started in 1944 and was offered at Michigan State University. As evidence that the acceptance of music therapy has grown, 75 educational institutions now offer degree programs in music therapy.


According to the Aging Well online site, there are seven main benefits derived from this type of therapy that positively impact dementia patients. The benefits listed below are the reason music therapy has been accepted as a positive approach to dementia treatment. Musical therapy promotes the following changes:

  • A sense of well-being
  • Improved memory
  • Opportunities for social engagement
  • Improved motor skills
  • Pain management without drugs
  • A complementary addition to physical rehabilitation that employs continuous movement and vocal activity
  • A renewed feeling of control over one’s life


As more is learned every year about dementia; it becomes obvious why music therapy is working to improve these patients’ moods and sense of well-being. Clinical case studies indicate that music affects learning, language skills, memory, expressing emotion and motor responses. Even people with severe dementia respond to music. Based on the undeniable results, music therapy is expected to continue as a viable treatment for dementia sufferers in the future.

Music Therapy Research Breakthroughs

In the aim to establish more concrete evidences that music therapy can be part of any treatment approach or technique, research was conducted to take a closer look on the positive reactions that patients exhibit when expose to it. Music therapy has always been associated to be useful in many sicknesses and concerns related to all aspects of living. It was determined that music therapy has all the entitlement to be given credit as a sensible element of health care management.

The research carried out covers different health care fields demonstrated a clear picture of the direct results of music therapy in the relief of many hard to treat problems. These patients responded positively and have shown remarkable improvements in their conditions.

Alzheimer’s disease manifests symptoms including faulty cognitive skills, great alterations in social behavior, and motor skill discrepancies. The research makes available three kinds of music therapy treatments in the hope that they can stimulate cognitive function enhancements. These are musically cued reminiscence, verbally cued reminiscence, and musical activity; music therapy treatments that have been proven to be effective in inducing the memory recollection of persons afflicted with Alzheimer’s.

In the evaluation, it was distinguished that musically and verbally cued reminiscence helped in the improvement of specified brain functions. It was recorded that significant increase in language abilities was observed in some patients who have been subjected to the aforementioned musical therapy treatments. However, those who have been opened to the elements of musical activities have shown greater substantial improvements in all the other areas most especially with social behavior concerns. The most effective approach used is by means of using songs that enhances memories and conversation.

The benefits of these methods are more noteworthy in patients afflicted with distressing chronic pain. Music therapy research was carried out to establish a link on how this treatment can alleviate the pain suffered by chronic pain patients.

Based on the chronic pain studies, music therapy can be helpful because the perception of the brain for both music and pain are equal. This means the brain receives sensation on both concerns within the same level. This developed the theory that you can use music therapy at the same time that a person is under bouts of chronic pain; this is because the brain’s part that is sensitive to music will react and cancel out the pain throbs, thus decreases the level of pain that is actually felt.

Different medical conditions can benefit from this type of therapy like Parkinson’s disease, cancer, and other unending illnesses. Music can also play a great part in lowering the level of pain felt during labor and child delivery, momentary and transitory pains, and other kinds of pain twinges.

Music therapy is also of assistance in the pain management plan and treatment plans for cancer patients. Children suffering from cancer are often subjected to music therapy treatments like singing, which has proven to create remarkable improvement in their immune system. The immune system is always the first to be given enough emphasis so as to prevent the occurrence of other complications.

Musicotherapia (Music Therapy)

Music therapy is based on the interpersonal therapeutic relationship between a professional music therapist and the patient. The objectives and methods of treatment are personalized and tailored to the needs and characteristics of the patient. The idea that the effect of music can be therapeutic is definitely not new.

The primitive belief that disease was caused by higher magical or divine powers begot exorcism as a way to eliminate these harmful entities. These ceremonies would combine sounds, music, words, and gestures appropriate to individual circumstances.

The oldest evidence of medical practice, the Egyptian papyrus Kahun, refers to the use of an incantation which helped dramatically in curing diseases. Evidence regarding the use of music as a therapeutic means are included in many historical writings of ancient civilizations such as Egypt, China, India, Greece and Rome.

Much later, the Persian scientist, psychologist, and musicologist, Al Farabi (872-950 AD), in his treatise “Meanings of the Intellect” (Concepts of Intellectual Property), made reference to music therapy and the therapeutic effect of music on the human soul.

In the late 18th century, scientists began to investigate the effect of music on the human body. Their studies and experiments showed that music helps to regulate heart rate, respiratory function, blood circulation, as well as other positive health effects.

The introduction of music therapy in the health sector was initiated after the first and second World War, when professional and amateur musicians offered their services voluntarily, visiting hospitalized veterans, trying, with passive or active participation of soldiers, to alleviate physical and mental wounds left by war, and to relieve pain through the use of their music.
The remarkable effects of music on the wounded led medical staff to demand the hiring of musicians in hospitals. The need for prior musical training led to the foundation of the first Music Therapy class at the University of Michigan in 1944.

The music therapist’s primary goal is to evaluate the emotional, mental, and physical changes of the patient as a result of different sounds and musical stimuli. Then, he or she adjusts the therapy sessions to the specific needs of the patient. There is no specific genre of music that necessarily has greater therapeutic effect than another. The types of music or musical stimuli used by the therapist are determined by the healing process that the therapist and patient prefer and the particular circumstances of treatment.

The patient does not need any prior knowledge of music, either empirical or academic, to benefit from the treatment. The therapist may recommend that the patient passively listen to selected musical parts or sounds or actively participate in the treatment by urging him or her to compose music or lyrics in order to shape mental images in the sounds and music or analyze lyrics.

Music therapy assists in medical treatment and assists in the healing process of physical, emotional, and mental illnesses or disabilities, such as the ability to handle daily accumulated stress, developmental and learning disabilities, Alzheimer’s disease, memory loss. It has also shown to help release and enhance emotional expression as well as improve interpersonal communication.

Music therapy benefits people of all ages, whether they be children, adults, or elderly.

Music Therapy – The Connection to the Soul

Music Therapy is the practice of improving living clinically through the use of music and all its co-joining forces such as the physical, emotional, mental, social and spiritual. The intent is to improve overall health. For many years, and even to a lesser extent today there was little to no confidence in the power of music and its connection to overall well-being. However, with the therapeutic results that have occurred using the tenets, it is truly an alternative that can be considered.

The practice of this therapy style is considered new (20th century) where in actuality it has been around for centuries. The study and practicality of using music as a respite for a tired soul first was identified in Europe. The link between music and the soul was first captured by Alpharabuis (872-950) when he talked at length about the correlation to music’s impact on the soul. Robert Burton (17th century) also made the connection between music and dance in the treatment of mental illnesses.

A recognized profession, the first undergraduate degree in Music Therapy was offered at Michigan State. And in 1998, two prominent psychology associations joined forces to become the American Music Therapy Association. The study of this alternative therapy style has continued to grow in both theory as well as patients. Today there are Master’s as well as PhD level course curriculum dedicated to this course of study.

So why Music? It is scientifically proven that music affects the brain. Heck, just look at yourself. The end of tough day you need something to relax to so you start to drive home and what do you do? You reach for the radio and find the type of music that suits the mood that you are trying to create for yourself. Music, in particular affects emotions and interactions. Music as a therapeutic tool is good for all ages. It is used in many clinical conditions including psychiatric, medical, stroke treatment and physical handicap.

Primarily, it strives to improve overall health. In addition to specific conditions it is also used very successfully to build self esteem, reduce stress and support physical exercise. It is used very extensively in children who need to learn how to stay calm, address aggression or find an outlet by which to express themselves. It is very closely linked at times to art therapy because it draws on the same creative energy that tends to connect with persons emotions and state of mind. Music Therapy is a great alternative treatment style and in widely used throughout the United States and abroad.

One last note, obviously to practice Music Therapy you must be proficient in an instrument or vocals. Your proficiency will then be tailored to a clinical tool that you can use with your patients.