5 things you should know about music and dementia

February 6, 2023
7 minute read
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If you've recently been diagnosed with dementia or are a care provider for those living with dementia, you may have questions about how you can support brain health. 

Perhaps you’re up to date on the latest scientific publications proving music’s therapeutic potential, or know from firsthand experience that listening to music can be a great therapeutic tool to address many quality-of-life concerns that may accompany living with dementia. 

Music can be a powerful tool for individuals living with dementia, and in turn, can be a helpful benefit made available for such individuals. From music’s impact on mood, to its ability to provide a personalized experience for each listener, it has the potential to support those living with dementia.

Here are five things you may not know about how music can support healthier living with dementia:

  1. Music can have a positive impact on mood and emotional well-being 

Many people with dementia may experience feelings of anxiety, depression, and agitation, but listening to music can help reduce these symptoms and improve overall quality of life. Studies1 found that personalized music may even reduce the need for anti-psychotic and anti-anxiety medications common used to manage symptoms for people living with dementia.

In a recently published perspective article in Frontiers, LUCID reviewed 12 randomized controlled trials which all reported a significant reduction in anxiety and agitation, two common negative symptoms experienced by those living with Alzheimer’s, after a music therapy intervention. Music listening was found to shift listeners’ balance from sympathetic to parasympathetic activity.

  1. Music can awaken and ignite memory

The documentary Alive Inside follows Dan Cohen, founder of the nonprofit organization Music & Memory, as he explores how music can awaken the minds of those living with dementia. It follows residents in long-term care facilities who are living with dementia who are given the opportunity to experience their favourite music from earlier times in their lives.

Cohen explores music’s ability to combat memory loss and bring back a sense of self for those living with dementia in real life and real-time. 

  1. Regular engagement with music may have long-term cognitive, emotional, and social benefits

Music listening and singing enhanced mood, orientation, episodic memory and overall general cognition, according to a randomized controlled study2. It also found that music listening had a positive effect on the quality of life for those living with dementia along with their caregivers. 

As the loss or decrease in cognitive function can be of great concern for those living with dementia, the use of music as a powerful intervention shows promise.

  1. Music that is tailored to the individual is most effective for therapeutic use

Different people with dementia may have different preferences for the type of music they enjoy, so it is important to work with the person to create a personalized playlist that they will enjoy and respond to. 

There are various ways to deliver personalized therapeutic music. In the previously mentioned Frontiers article, LUCID argues the case for “a music-based digital therapeutic to help manage the neuropsychiatric symptoms of dementia”, which would allow caregivers to access an AI platform to deliver personalized therapeutic music on an active daily basis.

Using LUCID’s closed-loop feedback system, the therapeutic music experience is personalized for each listener. Having the ability to adjust the music in real-time based on mood allows LUCID to deliver tracks that have the highest likelihood of successfully lowering feelings of anxiety and agitation, in the cases of those living with dementia. 

  1. Music therapy can be used in conjunction with other therapies

Music therapy can be incorporated into a comprehensive treatment plan, including other therapies such as speech therapy, occupational therapy, and physical therapy, to maximize the benefits for the individual living with dementia.

Medications commonly prescribed for those living with dementia can cause an array of negative side effects, such as nausea, muscle pain, difficulty sleeping, and headaches3. Listening to music has no known negative side effects, especially when used with other forms of therapy that address the physical difficulties one may experience when living with dementia.

Dementia is a growing public health concern, especially as the population ages. Music can be a valuable addition to the treatment plan for individuals living with dementia, especially as more evidence comes out to support the use of music as an intervention for combatting the negative symptoms associated with dementia. The power of personalized music in dementia care is evident in the various studies and real-life examples, and it is important to continue to research and advocate for utilizing this therapy in dementia care to improve the quality of life for those living with dementia, their loved ones, and their caregivers. 

1 Bakerjian, D., Bettega, K., Cachu, A. M., Azzis, L., & Taylor, S. (2020). The impact of music and memory on resident level outcomes in California Nursing Homes. Journal of the American Medical Directors Association, 21(8). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jamda.2020.01.103 

2 Särkämö, T., Tervaniemi, M., Laitinen, S., Numminen, A., Kurki, M., Johnson, J. K., & Rantanen, P. (2013). Cognitive, emotional, and social benefits of regular musical activities in early dementia: Randomized Controlled Study. The Gerontologist, 54(4), 634–650. https://doi.org/10.1093/geront/gnt100 

3Dementia drugs: Understanding common side effects and how they may affect the heart. Alzheimer's Society. (2018, September 6). Retrieved January 20, 2023, from https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/blog/dementia-drugs-understanding-common-side-effects-and-how-they-may-affect-heart