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14th November 2018

The Magic of Music in Dementia Care


“Music evokes emotion, and emotion can bring with it memory… it brings back the feeling of life when nothing else can.” Oliver Sacks

I love being involved in activities involving music with people with dementia. Whether it’s an impromptu session of Name That Tune, a sing song or an exercise session. I’ve seen withdrawn people come alive, move more and smile more. I have been really moved this week by the videos shared on social media by the son of ‘Songaminuteman’ (look him up) His father has late stage dementia and is brought alive by singalong sessions in the car with his son. It brings a tear to your eye.  We know that depression and dementia often go hand in hand. Music stimulates the production of the feelgood chemical serotonin, which can instantly lift our mood, but it seems that the benefits of music reach much further than this for someone with dementia.

The music/rhythm part of our brain is one of the last parts affected by dementia, so our musical memories stay intact for a long time, especially the memories from our teens and early twenties.  In the later stages of dementia when speech may become harder to understand, the ability to sing popular old tunes may remarkably remain intact.  The ability to show emotion may also diminish in the later stages which can be very sad for families and carers, but music can awaken some of these emotions and smiles, hugs and shows of affection become more frequent. Music can not only affect our mood but reawaken distant memories.

There is growing evidence to show that music helps people with dementia to live and feel better. Music as therapy is being considered as a cost-effective way of improving quality of life in residential care. Music is a natural way to promote exercise and movement.  Group activities with music can help people to bond and improve social interaction. Singing can facilitate communication and expression of emotions and also has the benefits associated with deep breathing which helps us to relax.

If residents are happier and less agitated, then stress levels reduce all round. Staff are happier with greater job satisfaction and are less likely to take time off sick or reduce their hours. Staff to resident ratio may reduce due to the decrease in agitated behaviours. The use of medication to treat agitated behaviour or treat depression may also reduce

What Can You Do?

To get the best results from your musical activities you need to make the experience meaningful for the listeners. It’s not just about putting on some music and hoping for the best. Everyone has different tastes in music so there is no point blasting out rock music to a Mozart fan. So, it is really important to get as much background information as possible from family and friends. The small things matter. Find out if they went to church or sang in a choir. Did they play an instrument? Did they go to dances in their youth. What type of dancing? What music was played at their wedding. What genre of music is their favourite. What were there favourite TV programs (they might recognise the theme tunes). Memories from teenage years and early twenties are often the most powerful. It’s also good to know what they particularly dislike music wise, as music can re-awaken sad memories too.

Think about creating a playlist or better still ask family or friends to do this. is a great resource for creating an individual playlist or using for reminiscence or impromptu games of Name That Tune. It’s quite easy to get carried away with this! Sing songs and talk about their significance and the memories they evoke.

Playing the same music for regular activities or routines can help residents recall the memory of that activity. When the resident hears the music they feel more mentally prepared and it helps routines to become more familiar and easily managed. Gentle music at mealtimes can create a more relaxed atmosphere and the same goes for bedtime routines.

Upbeat music for regular exercise sessions can encourage a bit more participation.  Dancing, clapping or using instruments like maracas. Who can listen to Hi Ho Silver Lining without waving their arms in the air? In a group setting music helps people to bond, smiles are shared and hands held.

Above all have fun and if you only do one thing, have a look at it’s a great resource to get you started.



*All information is correct at the time of publishing. Use of this material is subject to your acceptance of our terms and conditions.

Katie Farrar

Occupational Therapist

Katie qualified as an Occupational Therapist in the year 2000. For most of her professional career she has worked in the field of older people’s mental health services within community mental health teams. As part of this she has had extensive involvement with people with dementia and their carers, both in the community and in care home settings. Katie is currently working with the Dementia Pathway Team supporting people with dementia in the care home setting and particularly with advanced care planning for end of life care. She has also recently completed the Mental Health Act Best Interest Assessor Course at Leeds Beckett University. Katie has developed and delivered training to care homes on dementia awareness, managing delirium and managing challenging behaviour. As well, she has supported carers to offer meaningful activities and experiences and provided guidance to care homes on improving environments to become dementia friendly. Read more

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