The Power Of Music in Dementia | The Good Care Group

The power of music for dementia

With the increasing prevalence of dementia in our society, we need to find new ways to help and support those living with the condition. Much recent research shows that music can be beneficial to those living with dementia. It is fast becoming a significant part of dementia care both in care homes and by professional carers providing live-in care to people in their own homes.

Music is very powerful at unlocking memories and provides a platform to help with communication. This is particularly helpful for those who find it difficult to express themselves because of their condition.

Here we explain how music therapy is helpful to those living with dementia. We also provide tips on how you can use music to connect with your loved one.
How can I better manage their changing needs? These are some of the questions you may have asked yourself.


The brain, dementia and music

Dementia describes different brain disorders that trigger a loss of brain function. Dementia damages brain cells and interferes with the brains cells’ ability to communicate with each other. Symptoms of dementia include memory loss, confusion and problems with speech and understanding. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia. Other types of dementia include vascular dementia, Lewy bodes dementia frontotemporal dementia and mixed dementia. Dementia is progressive and eventually severe and sadly is a terminal condition.

Music for dementia can be a very powerful and effective cue for bringing a person back to the sights and sounds of events in their lifetime. These are called music-evoked autobiographical memories (MEAMs). This is particularly helpful for those living with dementia who have problems with short term memory but find it easier to access long term memories.

Listening to music can bring back memories of events in a person’s lifetime, for example weddings or birthday celebrations. The emotional nature of both these events and the music itself can aid memory recall for a person with dementia.

The first thing that happens when a person hears music, and it enters our brain is that it triggers the release of dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that makes you feel happy. The response to the music can be quick, that the brain can even anticipate pleasurable parts in familiar music and fill itself with an early rush of dopamine.

In 2018, researchers at the University of Utah, in the US conducted a study that analysed the effect of hearing familiar music for those living with Alzheimer’s disease. They used an MRI scan to analyse brain activity after listening to music. They identified greater brain activity and connection between brain areas after being exposed to music.

Communication and dementia

When someone is living with dementia their ability to communicate effectively are affected. The severity of communication problems will depend on the person and where they are in their dementia journey.

Typical problems with communication include:

  • Trouble finding the right words
  • Losing train of thought easily
  • Using words repeatedly
  • Not speaking as much as before
  • Trouble organising words / sentences logically
  • Using gestures more than speaking​​​​​​

Music can provide a powerful and enjoyable way to communicate and connect for the person with dementia, especially when other forms of communication are lost.

There are many benefits to using music for dementia to help connection and communication:

  • People living with dementia can express their feelings and ideas. This enables them to connect with loved ones
  • Music can enable a person to reminisce about the past, evoking nice feelings from the past
  • It encourages physical movement and exercise, for example dancing
  • Music is great for socialisation and connection with friends and families
  • It provides an activity to enjoy with others, which can reduce isolation
  • Music provides a voice for those living with dementia so they can tell a story about the personal background

Singing and dementia

Singing has many benefits to health and mental health well-being. Studies have shown that when people sing endorphins and oxytocin are released by the brain. This reduces stress and anxiety levels commonly experienced by those living with dementia. Endorphins are also linked to positive feeling and energy, and oxytocin with feelings of trust and bonding. All help those living with dementia.

Singing is a mindful activity. Focusing your mind and body on signing allows you to switch off your stream of consciousness. It allows people with dementia to experience the benefits of living in the moment, distracted from any negative thoughts. Mindfulness has been shown to have many benefits to those living with dementia, including reducing stress and increasing concentration. Singing has been shown to significantly improve the cognitive abilities of those living with dementia.

Other health benefits of singing include:

  • A strengthened immune system – a protein antibody is released from singing that has known benefits to the immune system.
  • Improves breathing – when you sing you breath well and increase your oxygen intake and lung capacity. This can help with your cardiovascular system and reduces anxiety and stress.
  • Strengthens the nervous system – the vagus nerve is connected to the vocal cords and connects the brain to various organs. It is a key part of the nervous system that influences breathing, digestion and heart rate.
  • Improving aerobic activity – singing exercises major muscle groups in the upper body, improving the efficiency of the cardiovascular system.

There are several singing groups across the UK who support those to live well with dementia through singing groups. This includes ‘Singing for the brain’ groups run nationwide in local communities by the Alzheimer’s Society.

There are numerous ways you can support your loved one to experience singing. Joining a local community choir, inviting their friends’ round to experience music at home or signing up for music therapy classes.

The role of music in dementia care

With all the benefits that music brings to those living with dementia, it is increasingly used in dementia care.  No matter where a person is cared for, music can help people to develop and maintain relationships with those close to them or caring for them. This has a positive effect on a person’s overall well-being.

As part of a dementia care plan, music can be used to improve general attention, thinking, memory, speech and communication skills. This in turn then reduces frustration, anxiety and depression for many with dementia.

Music can be integrated into the day-to-day life of a person with dementia in several ways, either in a group or on a one-to-one basis.  Every person living with dementia is different and it is important to understand what works for the individual. How they wish to listen to music, where, when and with who should be explored to understand what has the most positive effect. It is important to understand what music brings back positive memories.  This highly personalised approach considers personal needs and preferences and should be included in a person’s plan of care.

Some ideas for enjoying music include:

  • Singing in a group or choir
  • Listening quietly to music through headphones
  • Singing along to favourite pieces of music that evoke positive memories
  • Playing instruments
  • Listening to a live performance either online at home or at a concert

How to use music therapy to connect with your loved one

Music therapy can be provided by a family member caring for a loved one, or by involving a trained music therapist to help a person express themselves and communicate. It has been proven to reduce anxiety which leads to positive feelings, perception, mood and behaviour.

Choose music your loved one likes

Positive reactions will come from music that a person can connect to. It might be music they listen to regularly or music from their younger years.  If you do not know, ask them what music they like, or find out from friends or other family members. Find out when they would like to listen to it or simply ask ‘what song would you like to hear now’. When verbal communication is limited, use trial and error to find music that gets a positive reaction. Think about the music that was around in the younger years and play this music. Find live concert performances from their youth or ones you know they have attended. Create a playlist of all the music they enjoy for different moods, or times of the day. Be mindful about how different types of music affect mood.

Observe and monitor their reaction to music

Observe your loved one to see how they react to a piece of music. If they seem distressed or uncomfortable try another piece of music. If they respond positively to the music try joining in with them – hum along or tap your feet to encourage engagement.

Use music to interact with your loved one

Listening to music can be enjoyable for everyone. Use it as an opportunity to spend quality time together. Try tapping to the rhythm with them, dancing or just moving to the beat of the music or simply hold their hand. This can trigger memories and emotions that are not able to be expressed at any other time. Using photos or pictures alongside music can offer a chance for families to share memories and reminisce about the past.

Top tips for sharing music with your loved one:

  • Start with quiet and gentle music
  • Involve them in engaging with and enjoying the music
  • Watch out for negative emotions or memories being awoken and how they react
  • If your loved one is distressed turn the music off
  • Sadness may be linked to a memory and music association, offer comfort and reassurance but allow them to express themselves

Useful music for dementia resources

Below you can access information and support relating to music and dementia.

Music for dementia
Music mirrors
Playlists for life
Nordoff Robbins

How can The Good Care Group help?

We have been helping those living with dementia and their families for over 10 years. Our award-winning live-in care service is delivered by professional carers. Our carers are trained in how to care for someone living with dementia. They use a range of best practice techniques, including music therapy proven to provide reassurance, reduce anxiety and calm behaviours. We can reduce the need to use anti-psychotic drugs.

High-quality dementia care at home

We work with leading medical experts, academic bodies and leading charities. This ensures our care is of the very highest standards. Our work with the Contented Dementia Trust has seen us introduce the SPECAL approach to dementia care at home. This approach enables us to understand and discover what is important to the person living with dementia. We then develop a purposeful and meaningful programme of care. This programme positively improves overall health and well-being. With our own in-house Admiral Nurse, we are able to provide practical and emotional support to the dementia patient and their family.

In-depth dementia care planning

We ensure the care team that looks after your loved one is perfectly matched. They will be skilled and equipped to meet all your loved one’s dementia care needs. Our in-depth care planning process will ensure all your loved one’s needs are met. This process means we understand their preferences, choices and how they wish to lead their life, as well as their care needs.

Highest service rating from care regulators in England and Scotland

Unlike introduction agencies we are fully regulated in England and Scotland. This means the care and support we provide is regularly inspected. We are the only dedicated live-in care provider in England to achieve an ‘Outstanding’ rating by the Care Quality Commission (CQC).  We have achieved this rating in all five measures – safe, effective, caring responsive and well-led. In Scotland, our service has been inspected by the Care Inspectorate (CI).  It has achieved the highest rating of a 6 (Excellent) for quality of care and support and 5 (very good) for staffing, management and leadership. We know this provides families with peace of mind that their loved one is receiving the best possible dementia care.

A fully managed service

Families benefit from our fully managed service delivered by care experts. This means you do not need to worry about supervising and managing the carer yourself. Our professional carers are supervised by an experienced care manager. We provide this support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  With our service, families do not have the burden of managing the care arrangement themselves. This gives families can have peace of mind, whilst enjoying quality time with their loved one. They do not have to worry about the tasks of caring.

Arranging dementia care at home

Once you have decided care at home is right for you and your loved one – we are here to help. We will conduct a comprehensive assessment of your loved one’s needs. This covers not just their care needs, but how they wish to live their life. The assessment informs the care plan which will be created by an expert care manager, guided by clinical experts. The plan of care guides our professional care team to deliver the highest quality dementia care to your loved one, which includes music therapy if you wish.

Talk to us about our live in care services

Find out more about how we can help your loved one to live well in the comfort of their home – call our friendly experts today.

020 3728 7577

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