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Music and Dementia

music therapy

Dementia slowly robs many abilities from those who have it. Their ability to understand and communicate is affected. Sometimes, they do not know what to do next so they do the same thing over and over. They often have trouble coping and they may become more fearful. They do not know how to calm themselves. These changes cause them to be more anxious. It is important to help them by keeping a steady routine. Keep things simple. Increase their rest periods. Appeal to their sense of sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste.

This guide explains some ways to use music when fears begin to take over.  Each person and each journey is unique. Caregivers can try many approaches to find what works best.


Music is right at your fingertips. Listening to familiar music can help someone with dementia feel more safe and calm. It can tap into memories and draw out pleasant emotions. Soothing music can slow heart and breathing rates.


  • Music Choices
    • Choose music that the listener prefers.
    • To help them when they do not know what to do next, play music that gets their attention.
    • To help them feel calm, play music with a steady beat (80-100 beats per minute).
    • Peaceful sounding instruments playing smooth melodies without dramatic changes work best.
  • Planat piano youth and age
    • You can use any source for music: recordings, digital devices or live music.
    • Prepare several musical choices so they are ready to use as soon as they are needed.
  • Observe
    • Watch for patterns of anxiety to see if you noticed events that cause it, or if it begins at a certain time of day. If you can, begin to use the music before the anxiety sets in. If there is too much anxiety, music alone may not be helpful.
  • Prepare
    • Reduce the noise of talking, TV, radio, alarms, telephones or moving around.
    • First, take care of any physical needs such as giving a snack, assisting to the bathroom, giving medicine.
    • Make the room comfortable. Dim the lighting. Adjust the loudness of the music for the listener.
  • Gain attention
    • First, choose a music activity they enjoy to catch their attention.
    • If the listener enjoys dancing, use safe and simple steps, swaying, clapping, or tapping surfaces to help them enjoy music more.
    • If they enjoy singing, start a sing-along of their favorite songs.
    • If they enjoy talking about music, listen to a favorite song with them. Then talk about their memories of that song.
    • You may need to keep the music activity to 10-15 minutes; the listener can become too tired or too excited.
  • Reduce the stress
    • Next, make the listener comfortable and play soothing music.
    • Coach them to relax by showing them deep, slow breathing. Allow time for them to mirror this breathing. This can reduce heart and breathing rates.
    • For best results, do not let music continue playing for more than 30 minutes at a time.
  • Observe and modify
    • Watch the effect the music has on the listener. If music causes anxiety, change songs, or stop listening to music altogether.
  • Mask
    • Noises can cause anxiety to start up again. There are recordings of nature sounds such as ocean waves, rainfalls, birds chirping. Some have music background and some do not. These can cover up noises at any time, day or night, so the listener is not affected by every sound around them. This can help them stay calm.


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