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Music for Alzheimer's & Dementia

Living with memory loss can result in confusion and anxiety. Learn how making personally meaningful music part of your routine can act as medicine to reduce stress and help people feel like themselves. 

Older Woman Listening to Music and Laughing

Music for Alzheimer's & Dementia

People that are living with memory loss often experience difficult symptoms that can result in confusion and anxiety. Learn how making personally meaningful music part of your routine can act as medicine to reduce stress and help people feel like themselves. 

“One does not need to have any formal knowledge of music - nor, indeed, to be particularly ‘musical’ - to enjoy music and to respond to it at the deepest level.”

- Dr. Oliver Sacks -

Helping Loved Ones Manage Difficult Symptoms

Losing memory and the ability to comfortably interact with other people can be unsettling for people with dementia. These symptoms can contribute to stressul emotions, such as:

  • Feeling Worried - When a person realizes that they are no longer able to remember important information, they can become anxious and overly concerned about certain situations or people.  
  • Being Sad - Many forms of dementia result in people being confused about time and place. Not being able to live in a familiar place and interact with familiar people, can cause some people to feel very sad.
  • Getting Frustrated - As making sense of the world becomes increasingly difficult, some people with dementia are increasingly prone to feeling agitated.
Older Woman Looking Sad
Generic boxes of pills for dementia


Most types of dementia can't be cured, and medications approved for treating symptoms provide temporary relief

While there are four medications that are approved by the FDA to help lessen or stabilize symptoms of Alzheimer's and related dementia, the impact of these solutions varies for each individual. Research suggests these drugs have their greatest effects in the first few months, and begin to lose their effectiveness over time.  

 Music as Medicine

Humans have been tapping into the healing powers of music for thousands of years. Powerful stories and emerging research studies are increasingly demonstrating the therapeutic benefits of music, especially for people living with dementia.


Prescribing Music in Ancient Greece Famous Greek philosophers like Pythagoras, Hippocrates, and Artistotle played music for patients, prescribed songs as medicine, and described music as a tool to ease stress and purify emotions.

American Flag Icon

Using Music to Treat World War Soldiers During the First and Second World Wars, music therapy began to develop in the United States. Music was used in Veterans Hospitals for those with war injuries to help boost spirits and relieve pain. Doctors and nurses witnessed the effect music had on veterans' physical and mental well-being.

Michigan State Logo

Universities Develop Music Therapy Academic Program In 1944, Michigan State was the first university to establish an academic program to train people how to use music for therapeutic purposes. Music Therapy has been growing since; today there are thousands of certified music therapists and a large number of academic programs across top universities. 

Best-Selling Book Muiscophilia

New York Times Best Seller Explains Healing Power of Music Starting early in the new millennium, the idea of using music to help people suffering from neurological conditions began to gain popularity. In 2007, Oliver Sacks, M.D. published Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain - a best-selling book that explains how music can help people move, speak, and enjoy life - even when medication can not. 

Brown University Logo

A Brown University study shows personalized music decreases behavioral issues for people with dementia From 2012 to 2013, researchers from Brown University observed 98 match-pair nursing homes; the intervention group provided personalized music to residents. The nursing homes that provide music saw a greater reduction in behavioral issues and the use of anti-psychotic medications. 

Documentary About Music and Alzheimer's

Award winning documentary shows how music can spark joy In 2014, Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory - a documentary film that shows how music can spark joy in people with dementia - won the Audience Award at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. Scenes from the film have inspired millions and fuel ongoing efforts to make personalized music a standard of dementia care.  

Cover of Journal of Alzheimer's Disease

Journal of Alzheimer's Disease Suggests Promising Results for Caregivers with Music Routines A 2017 paper in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease reviewed 28 studies that used pre-recorded music with people with dementia; results suggest that music can be effective in reducing a variety of symptoms, in particular agitation, even when a trained music therapist is not present. The research suggests that studies in which caregivers made music part of their routines showed promising results.  

Music and the Brain Research Graphic

Research Shows Personal Music Activates the Brain Using a functional MRI, researchers from the University of Utah scanned people with dementia to image the regions of the brain that lit up when they listened to 20-second clips of music versus silence. The results, which were published in April 2018 in the Journal of Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease, show that personally familiar music activates the brain, causing whole regions to communicate and have higher functional connectivity.

“This [research] is objective evidence from brain imaging that shows personally meaningful music is an alternative route for communicating with patients who have Alzheimer’s disease”  

- Dr. Norman Foster -

Director of the Center for Alzheimer's Care and Imaging Research at University of Utah

How can caregivers make music part of their care routine?

Using music as part of your caregiving routine can not only enhance mood and improve quality of life for your loved one, but it can also help you prevent and lessen stressful situations.

Learn how to incorporate music into your loved one's routine by downloading a free copy of Music for Alzheimer's and Dementia: A How-to Guide for Care Teams, and following step-by-step instructions from caregiving experts.  

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Music for Alzheimer's & Dementia Guide on iPad

A How-to Guide for Care Teams

When caring for a person with memory loss, getting others involved can be very beneficial for you and your loved one. Whether you are inviting family and friends to visit, participating in community programs, or working with professional caregivers - establishing music routines can help you successfully include others. 

The Music for Alzheimer's and Dementia guide provides step-by-step instructions to help care teams develop personalized playlists and listening solutions. 


Explore Meaningful Music

Resources for Exploring Music:

  • Music Conversation Starters
  • Records, Tapes, CDs, and Other Music Clues
  • Online & Offline Solutions for Previewing Music
  • Genre-based Music Index


Save Favorite Music

Resources for Saving Music Playlist:

  • Music Favorites Worksheet
  • Setup for Offline Music Solutions
  • Saving Playlists to an MP3 Player
  • Using a Streaming Music Service


Establishing Music Routine

Resources for Establishing Music Routines:

  • Listening Solutions Worksheet
  • Socializing with Music
  • Making Music Part of Activities of Daily Living
  • Reducing Stress with Music


Debby D.

Family Caregiver

"I've been caring for my mom for the past 8 years, and we use music daily. Over time, our routines have changed, but one thing has stayed the same - music helps mom feel like herself."

Kim S.

Family Caregiver

"I was skeptical that music would work for my mom, but my son-in-law encouraged me and helped us get started. I was shocked when she started singing! Now it's one of our go-to activities; she lights up every time. "

Connie S.

Professional Caregiver

"I've been caring for people with memory loss for years, and it can be very difficult - especially in the beginning. Having access to their favorite music makes it so much easier to get to know people, help them smile, and earn their trust."

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Music for Alzheimer's & Dementia

A How-to Guide for Care Teams

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