Music Therapy, Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia

Older gentleman listening to headphones

There are a myriad of reasons why both listening to music and playing instruments are good for those living with Alzheimer’s and dementia. In this week’s blog we will outline a handful of the benefits associated with music therapy for those living in memory care communities. From reducing stress and enhancing memory, music therapy is an easy and accessible tool for older adults across the board, especially those living in memory care communities.

Music Therapy Stimulates the Brain and Enhances Memory

Music is a great therapeutic tool for those of all ages and especially seniors living with Alzheimer’s and dementia. A research study conducted at UC Irvine found that memory test scores improved for those with Alzheimer’s after listening to certain types of music, especially classical music.

Upbeat music can “boost tired minds and bodies,” while slower, more reflective music can help a loved one stay calm and focused for specific tasks. Chris Brewer, the founder of LifeSounds Educational Services notes that “music puts people in a better mood for learning” regardless of age or musical background. What’s great is that listening to music has a low barrier for entry. You don’t need any fancy equipment or musical know-how to enjoy the benefits of music. Simply turn on the radio, tune in and enjoy the day’s activities … no matter what they are!

Classical Music and Memory Care

Arts-based-therapy for those living with Alzheimer’s and dementia has risen in popularity in recent years and it’s easy to see why so many are turning to music therapy to help a loved one. Listening to classical music can help ease anxieties, restlessness and frustration which are common symptoms for those living with dementia.

We never age out of our appreciation for music. It has been revealed that people living with Alzheimer’s can retain the ability to enjoy and understand music until the very end of their lives. This is because the part of our brains where music processing lives is the very last to go. Music is processed in the basal ganglia, the part of the brain that is resistant to damage caused by Alzheimer’s, according to Andrew Budson, Associate Director of the Boston University Alzheimer’s Disease Center. The basal ganglia is where the brain responds to beat and rhythm.

While there is still much research to be done on the relationship between music therapy and Alzheimer’s one thing is for certain — the ability of music to bring older adults joy in times of confusion is very real.

Add Visuals to Music Therapy

Visuals in combination with music therapy can have lasting benefits and enhance the act of listening to music as a therapeutic tool. Looking through photo albums with a loved one, drawing or taking a walk while listening to music are a few ways to incorporate visuals into the process.

You may also consider tying certain types of music to tasks. Adding music to an exercise class or turning on some classical music while winding down for the evening are a couple of ways you can incorporate music into your loved one’s schedule.

Break out an Instrument

While not all of us learned to play an instrument growing up, it’s never too late to start. Participatory art programs have positive effects on mental health, physical health and social functions. What’s great is this doesn’t require a large investment of an instrument. Many instruments can be made from items we already have around the house. Consider making an instrument for your loved one out of these common items and having grandchildren join in on the process.


A homemade “guitar” requires an empty box and a handful of rubber bands in varying thickness. Simply use an old tissue box or cardboard box with the top cut off. Wrap the rubber bands around the box and voila! It may not be much to look at but you’d be surprised at the varying tones you can get from a few simple household items. Your loved one can simply strum along to a record or the radio or they may opt to make their own tune.


Maracas are an easy-to-hold item for those who may be dealing with the loss of strength and dexterity in their hands. A couple of small containers with lids filled partially with dried beans, rice, beads, sprinkles or small pebbles is all you need for your DIY maracas. Try using different sized items in the containers for varying sound effects.


This is an especially fun group or family project because you get to decorate your tambourine to your heart’s delight. All that is required are paper plates, a stapler and small jingle bells that you can pick up for a few dollars at your local craft store.

Begin by using markers, crayons or paints to decorate the exterior of your paper plates. Once dry, simply place a handful of jingle bells between the two plates and staple them together along the exterior edge. If you want to take up the aesthetic level a notch you may also opt to use a hole punch and colored yarn to tie the plates together in lieu of a stapler.

If you’re looking for more instrument ideas head here for a more robust list of DIY instruments.

Incorporating music into the lives of those living with Alzheimer’s and dementia is easy and fun and the benefits abound. Music provides a great avenue for bringing people together as well. At Prestige Senior Living our team of dedicated professionals is always looking for new and creative ways for our residents to expand their imaginations and participate in community activities that engage the body and mind.