How Music Therapy Helps Those With Dementia

Studies support the power of music therapy as a proven way to engage and improve dementia patients’ lives. Remarkable changes in behaviour are documented, where severely handicapped people suffering from memory loss suddenly burst into song remembering the words and melodies of tunes from the past. Some patients with severe dementia who no longer remember who they are have been reported to respond to the miracle of music.

Music Therapy and Loneliness

Dementia is a progressive disease that leaves patients unable to communicate. This causes sufferers to feel isolated and unable to communicate basic needs. According to Kimmo Lehtonen Ph.D., professor of education at the University of Turku, “music can actually make the mind move.” Music is believed to conjure up memories through an emotional connection that ultimately makes human interaction possible again.

The Proof that Music Therapy Helps Dementia Patients

One case study documented by Lehtonen was recorded with a video camera. Working as a music therapist, Lehtonen recorded a session with an 80-year-old patient suffering from dementia. The treatment administered in this case was the singing of folk songs in Finnish. In response, the patient sang old romantic songs in Italian. Many of these songs were very difficult. Lehtonen noted that the older patient’s expressions and voice were filled with authentic emotion that truly moved him. What made this patient’s singing so remarkable is that his history indicated that he barely remembered his name. Another noteworthy fact about this case that supports the idea that the emotion of musical memories is what breaks through the symptoms of dementia is the fact that the 80-year-old patient had spent the prime of his life in Florence.

A Brief History

There are documented uses of this therapy as far back as 2000 years ago. In the 20th century, musicians were requested to play for the WWI and WWII soldiers wounded in hospitals. Doctors realized the emotional and physical benefit of music for healing patients in both psychological and physical ways. The first official music therapy program started in 1944 and was offered at Michigan State University. As evidence that the acceptance of music therapy has grown, 75 educational institutions now offer degree programs in music therapy.


According to the Aging Well online site, there are seven main benefits derived from this type of therapy that positively impact dementia patients. The benefits listed below are the reason music therapy has been accepted as a positive approach to dementia treatment. Musical therapy promotes the following changes:

  • A sense of well-being
  • Improved memory
  • Opportunities for social engagement
  • Improved motor skills
  • Pain management without drugs
  • A complementary addition to physical rehabilitation that employs continuous movement and vocal activity
  • A renewed feeling of control over one’s life


As more is learned every year about dementia; it becomes obvious why music therapy is working to improve these patients’ moods and sense of well-being. Clinical case studies indicate that music affects learning, language skills, memory, expressing emotion and motor responses. Even people with severe dementia respond to music. Based on the undeniable results, music therapy is expected to continue as a viable treatment for dementia sufferers in the future.