Music and Dementia

There has been a lot of research on the benefits of music and how it impacts people suffering from dementia. Dr Maggie Haertsch, CEO of the Arts Health Institute says, “the music awakens a part of the brain not impacted by dementia and evokes responses, such as singing and movement, and brief moments of reconnection with loved ones.”

My Dad was not trained in music but always walked around the house singing and would tinker on his keyboard and play hymns ‘by ear’. After Mum’s death, his alzheimers deteriorated rapidly with heartbreak.

I was blessed to be there one week soon after when music therapy was on. The lovely music therapist had been teaching him guitar and he came alive as he strummed on the guitar. She also played a duet with him on the keyboard. He played and she played along accordingly providing a harmony and he loved it – dancing along and smiling. I could definitely see the positive affects of music on my Dad – it ‘brought him back’ for awhile.

Following that, I bought Dad an mp3 player and loaded on his favourite hymns and jazz/blues from his younger years. He wasn’t able to work it but the staff assisted and he seemed to love it, as long as it wasn’t too loud (due to the sensitivity to noise in dementia). He even did a little jiggle as I put it on his ears 🙂 I can definitely recommend the value in organising the opportunity to listen to music for your loved one.

One day when I was there, again following Mum’s death, there was an Elvis impersonator at the home doing a concert and I had a brief moment of time dancing with Dad 🙂 It was a special moment. After that, he went back to his head down, shuffling along posture and we shuffled away to a quiet space.

Music is an amazing means of bringing you together with your loved one. It is also restorative, providing comfort as you grieve those difficult visits. I would play music all the way home to sooth my soul following those bitter-sweet, unbearable yet unmissable visits.

“I have seen deeply demented patients weep or shiver as they listen to music they have never heard before, and I think that they can experience the entire range of feelings the rest of us can, and that dementia, at least at these times, is no bar to emotional depth. Once one has seen such responses, one knows that there is still a self to be called upon, even if music, and only music, can do the calling.” Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks (2007)

2 thoughts on “Music and Dementia

  1. Monika — This is a lovely blog. I’m grateful that you found my site ( — one of my main projects over the past year was creating sing-along classic hymns for elders with dementia, available for free download to anyone who could use them. I love the way the words speak the Lord’s truth, peace, comfort, and rest, and even if elders don’t seem to understand the words, they respond in amazing ways when they hear their beloved old tunes — and they often start to sing along (even people who are nonverbal!). Blessings on your journey and thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

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