A drum beat, a guitar strum, a melody, a song. A toe tap, a finger snap, and soon you’re humming along. Music can move us emotionally and physically without us having to even think about it. Its power to reach past the mind and touch the soul has a soothing therapeutic effect particularly beneficial to someone living with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias.

A senior happily plays her piano.

A study published in the Journal of Music Therapy1 demonstrated that playing familiar background music helped to increase positive social behaviors in people living with Alzheimer’s and decrease negative dementia-related behaviors such as agitation.

Music has also been proven to drastically decrease anxiety and depression in people living with Alzheimer’s disease, according to a study published in the Journal of Dementia and Geriatric Cognitive Disorders 2. One caregiver summed up her experience with music saying that she would wake her husband up every morning to the Louis Armstrong song, “Wonderful World,” and “He always started the day in a great mood.”

Even when the usual means of communication become inhibited by the effects of Alzheimer’s or other dementias, those experiencing memory loss still remember and respond to music.

You can leverage the power of music in a number of different ways to lift the spirits of a family member living with dementia and unlock memories from long ago.

One way is to create a “life soundtrack” that includes memorable songs from your loved one’s childhood, teenage, young adult and older years. Research the top hits from each decade of your loved one’s life, find out what songs were played at his or her wedding, and pick out some well-loved hymns or carols. If your family member living with dementia used to play a musical instrument, include music featuring that instrument as well.

You can also encourage your family member living with dementia to not just listen but take part in the music making. According to Preserve Your Memory magazine3, singing daily has a positive effect on one’s mental state. Many senior centers and other community organizations provide opportunities to sing with a group, play an instrument (even if just a woodblock or tambourine), or simply clap along. And when you play the soundtrack you created for you loved one, sing along together. You may be surprised how many lyrics your loved one still remembers by heart.


1. Journal of Music Therapy, Winter 2007: “The Effect of Background Stimulative Music on Behavior in Alzheimer’s Patients”

2. Journal of Dementia and Geriatric Cognitive Disorders, July 2009: “Effect of Music Therapy on Anxiety and Depression in Patients with Alzheimer’s Type Dementia”

3. Preserve Your Memory, Winter 2011: “Celebrating Senior Sounds.”

4 thoughts on “Music and Memories

  • Linda

    Music worked well wirh my husband – oddly enough the music he most loved agitated or depressed him – so I found what he liked – also sounds of nature calmed him very much –
    The sea- birds- wind chimes etc.

  • Patty Konigsfeld

    My mom loved to Line Dance, Polka and Square Dance. When she hears Polka music she grabs my dad and dances around the room. It brings tears to my eyes every time I witness it.

  • pauline Mousaad

    I sow all the Elderly peoples likes music , when the music start if someone plays or singing also listen to the music gets them calm and they gets very happy also they can dance
    my client likes music when she in a good mood with the music she dance and she was so happy also she likes to listen to the same music all the time
    when i assisted her to the activity room for sing , party, the resident plays drums
    she likes all but she likes plays drums she enjoys when she plays when we explain to her she was follow the leader
    if i tell you she is saver stage of Dementia but with the music she is OK but something she likes .if she dose not likes she was very relies , confuse , speaks loud sometimes just she say words like she wants to say i did not like

  • Joan K. Novak

    I go to see my friend of 80 years every Monday. She is in a nursing home & in Hospice. I try to remember everything she enjoyed when she was young & I can get a smile but when tries to speak, usually 1 word, I can’t understand.
    I try to remember all the things we did as teenagers, young mothers, etc.
    Any ideas? I would so appreciate your help.

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