The Importance of Music in Dementia Care

Music in Dementia Care Memory Cafe Directory

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“Is music good for individuals living with dementia?”

It would be a safe bet to say music is good for all of us. Many of us relate to the featured image of a turntable arm resting on a rotating vinyl platter. Others connect with the latest fancy iPod or one of any number of very common MP3 players. Fortunately, some of us remember the joy that each format has brought us. It turns out, music in Dementia Care is also critically valuable!

But the benefits are more than just fondly remembering how we consumed music, and of course, the music itself. From children getting better in math by learning how to count notes, to us oldsters being transported to a specific place and time just by hearing a song, the benefits are equal to the sheer enjoyment.

(For me, The Guess Who’s “Undun” takes me back to an elementary school dance. Boys on one side of the room; girls on the other. You know the setting, don’t you?)

However, there are many questions about the role music plays when caring for someone:

  • How does music affect dementia?
  • Is music good for dementia?
  • What is good music for those living with dementia?
  • Plenty more whats and hows!

You want to do the right thing, but you also want to make sure you pursue it in a valuable and helpful manner.

The Science of Music

Here’s what the National Institutes of Health has to say about the importance of music for those living with dementia:

“The effects of music go beyond the reduction of behavioural and psychological symptoms. Individual preference of music is preserved throughout the process of dementia. Sustaining musical and interpersonal connectedness would help value who the person is and maintain the quality of their life.”

So What Does This Mean?

Simply, music is good. It helps improve behavior and supports the individual psychologically. Someone’s favorite music is still their favorite music, even though they are now living with dementia. It maintains their quality of life.

That’s enough for me!

How to Incorporate Music in Dementia Care

It seems there are as many different ways to incorporate music into your dementia care as there are dementia caregivers. OK, that may be a bit of a stretch, but the point is there are many different approaches, so we can be confident there is one right for your particular situation.


To emphasize that point, here are two examples of organizations accomplishing great things: one in the U.S., and one in the U.K. They have approaches and techniques that can be valuable to all of us.

Music in Dementia Care Memory Cafe Directory


Music and Memory

Based in New York, this non-profit organizationbrings personalized music into the lives of the elderly or infirm through digital music technology, vastly improving quality of life.” This quote from their website really says it all.

They train professional caregivers, other professionals, and family caregivers. They teach them how to use a variety of audio players to help those living with Alzheimer’s Disease and other dementia symptoms. The purpose is to help “reconnect” them through memories triggered by the music.

Here’s a great example of a dramatic and frankly, heartwarming transformation.” You will be hooked in less that 60 seconds!

Of course, not every circumstance will be this dramatic. But based on the science and this as an example, there are many who could benefit greatly!

Music in Dementia Care Memory Cafe Directory


Music for Dementia 2020

I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with Programme Director Grace Meadows about this wonderful initiative when it was in the early stages of rollout. Music for Dementia 2020 is a national campaign in the U.K. It’s goal is to make music available to everyone living with dementia – and do it by 2020. The Utley Foundation in the U.K. is leading the campaign.

On their website, Music for Dementia 2020 has a wealth of information to help you get started with music in your dementia care. From many articles about how music helps, to how you can apply the practices in your situation.

As a very happy coincidence, their first MusLetter arrived while I was researching and editing this post. It shares a detailed update on where they are in their initiative.

My favorite video they share on their website is of this beautiful woman who is living with Alzheimer’s Disease. While playing along with the xylophone, she exclaims “You’ve brought me back to life!”

No. I’m not crying… it’s allergies.

Musical Memory Cafes

I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring this back to the Memory Cafe environment. Based on what I’ve researched, the primary goal is to find music the person likes, and build a library of that kind of music. A Memory Cafe can be a perfect venue for facilitating that effort.

For example, if an occasional (or regular) Memory Cafe theme is Music, it could be a “sampler” for everyone. Participants can vote, play “Name That Tune,” suggest their favorites, etc. When that happens, each care team identifies a song to add to “their” play list.

Find it. Note it. Add it. Enjoy it!

One thing needs to be mentioned. Remember that everyone has their own preferences and the goal is to avoid imposing “bad” music on someone. However, with the sampler approach, “bad” only lasts a few minutes, and everyone has the opportunity to add “good” tunes to their playlist.

In the meantime, everyone has a great time experiencing a wide range of musical styles. (Singing and dancing encouraged!)

Why Am I Sharing This With You?

Bill Diez Workin Memory Cafe Directory

Available on Amazon

What sparked this idea was hearing that a song written and performed by a good friend, Billy Ray Deiz, was selected for a compilation album. The compilation, called “Keepin’ it Country” has 17 cuts from various artists.

Sylvie Marie from Indie Spoonful cited Bill’s contribution of “Workin'” as “A Woody Guthrie for the 21st Century”

Congratulations, Billy Ray!

Now I’d be the last person to force a certain genre, artist, or song on someone, but there might just be Woody Guthrie fans out there. If not, maybe there’s country fans. Even if I’ve struck out there, almost everyone reading this enjoys music in some way, shape, or fashion.

The point: we’ve established there are a number of ways to incorporate music into the everyday lives of someone living with dementia. Opening our thoughts to be aware of a wide variety of genres and artists is the first step in uncovering those valuable musical nuggets that can light up our loved ones!

Something for Everyone

It’s often said that if you know one person living with dementia, you know one person living with dementia. Everyone is different in how dementia affects them. That same individuality extends to fondness for music.

Fortunately in music, there are nearly unlimited styles, genres, sub-genres, and further variations in each of those. Luckily there’s a fit for everyone. Any given musical style might not be one that resonates with your loved one, but than again, it just might.

You may not have the same clear understanding of a favorite musical style for your loved one that my family has for me. (Yes, Jimmy Buffett is number 1, then it’s everything else!) The goal is to find that favorite style, genre, artist, or song that lights them up. The challenge is to find ways to surface those favorites.

Scatter it Around

Music may not currently be a part of your everyday lives. You might not be sure how to introduce it. First, think about how you structure your days. Here’s some ideas:

  • Do you ride together in the car frequently?
  • Is there a quiet time that borders on boredom?
  • Are there regular activities or chores that could be “energized” with some music?

You get the idea. Try out different activities or situations to introduce a song or album, and then see how it goes. The worst that will happen is that you’ve identified a song that isn’t liked. Hopefully, you’ll start to build a playlist that gets better and better with each song added.

Enjoy the musical journey!

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