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How does music benefit people with Alzheimer’s?

We are a nation of music lovers – it’s fair to say music plays a big role in most people’s lives. Listening to music can do everything from relieving stress and anxiety to radically changing someone’s mood or outlook on life. This is especially true for a person with Alzheimer’s, as music not only provides joy and comfort, but it can also help people to connect with others, memories and emotions.


Music plays a powerful role when it comes to unlocking people’s memories as it seems to reach a part of the brain that other communication methods cannot. This may be related to the fact that we associate different songs with certain life events. Music can often bring these events/occasions to mind more vividly than other ways of remembering.


Why does music boost brain activity?

Singing is a natural anti-depressant as it releases endorphins (feel good hormones) in our body. It can also decrease the levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Singing further improves blood flow allowing more oxygen to reach the brain. This can improve mental alertness, concentration and memory. Singing can also improve self-confidence, releases endorphins and keeps the brain functioning well.


What does the research say?

Recently, the Arts Council of Wales called for more research into what needs to be done to offer ‘arts on prescription.’ The Arts Council Chairman stated that offering art and dance classes “could alleviate strain on the NHS.” The Arts and Health in Wales report states that these non-clinical services could improve people’s health and alleviate the strain on GP surgeries.


Researchers believe music stimulates many parts of the brain at the same time, such as those areas affecting language, mood and movement, along with the senses of hearing, sight, sound and touch. The affect a song will have on someone can often be determined by a person’s past emotional experience with that song. If the song reminds someone of a sad time in their past, their response could be less positive than a song associated with happier memories. Alzheimer’s patients might show distress in such a situation by acting agitated or tense.


How does different types of music work?

The most positive responses are often brought on when listening to music popular when a person was between the ages of 18 and 25. However, typical childhood songs or music that is unfamiliar may also be effective, often due to a lack of an emotional connection.


Depending on the type of music, music therapy may help accomplish a variety of things.


  • Stimulating music with a quick tempo and percussion songs can motivate patients to take action or stay awake.
  • Sedating music might prove more soothing. This type of music works well with patients who feel agitated or overloaded by their environment.
  • In later stages, the disease causes patients to stop showing affection to others, but through dance or swaying to the music they may move closer to others or make affectionate gestures.


Music won’t cure Alzheimer’s but it can make the symptoms a lot more manageable and improve a person’s quality of life. With 1 in 14 people over the age of 65 developing Alzheimer’s in their lifetime it’s something that can be easily used on a regular basis.


Click here to see our top things to do with people who have dementia. Meaningful activities include singing songs or playing music, cooking or baking simple recipes together and watching family videos.


Posted 25th May 2018

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