Why Music Therapy for Seniors With Alzheimer’s and Dementia Totally Rocks!

music therapy

Did you know that music therapy can alleviate pain, enhance memory and improve communication?

As a caregiver for my senior mom, I know first hand how emotionally painful it is to observe the decline of an Alzheimer’s patient.

During the early stages of the disease, long before she became bed-bound and unresponsive, I experimented with music therapy.

We would sing together as a way of socializing. This also exercised her long-term memory and mental function.

My mom had a background in music and while she could no longer play the piano, she would enjoy listening to songs that reminded her of her youth in Cuba and her 50-year marriage to my father.

She also loved the songs I composed for her on the quarto, a small, 4-stringed guitar.

My mom loved to dance when she was younger and so in spite of her aging body, she could feel rhythm and music “in her bones” even when she was barely capable of carrying a conversation.

I encouraged her to stand up while she still could and perform small, gentle hand and foot movements. Dance became part of our music therapy routine and it exercised her motor-coordination.

Sometimes, she would hum along. No matter what, her face would always LIGHT UP!


My father suffers from dementia and he too benefited from our music therapy. At night, I sang to my parents before I tucked them into bed and we enjoyed the same lullabies they sang to me when I was a child.

Although the bedtime ritual was bittersweet for me, it meant we could bond when short-term memory was fuzzy. My singing would help both my “babies” fall asleep with a sense of security and comfort.

Routine is especially important for the elderly with memory disorders, as they tend to become agitated at night in a state of confusion and restlessness called “sundowning.”

Singing softly at bedtime was not only crucial for my parents’ palliative care but it also soothed me before “me” time. Bedtime music therapy meant that my caregiver work day was over and that I could now take care of my own needs.

Music gave me a respite from the constant worry that resulted from being a parent to my parents. Although I would, of course, have preferred to sing to my parents under happier circumstances, using music as a therapeutic tool brought me a sense of peace and acceptance.

Caught up in the stress of caregiving, I often forgot these simple joys in life.


The Alzheimer’s Association offers a more scientific description of what I believe most of us already know intuitively:

This happens because rhythmic and other well-rehearsed responses require little to no cognitive or mental processing. They are influenced by the motor center of the brain that responds directly to auditory rhythmic cues. A person’s ability to engage in music, particularly rhythm playing and singing, remains intact late into the disease process because, again, these activities do not mandate cognitive functioning for success.

In short, music really does soothe the soul and the mind!

For most of us, music is usually a source of joy and connection that’s grounded in our early perception of our surroundings. The first sound we hear is the mother’s heartbeat. Sound and movement are primal to our body’s instinctual relationship to the world.

Those who suffer from Alzheimer’s lose their sense of connectedness; the mental fog of short-term memory loss must be very bewildering.

Sounds that evoke positive, joyful feelings, including laughter, are all means of breaking the painful silence of Alzheimer’s when the patient is no longer capable of responding to other forms of stimuli. Tapping into the music my mother “remembered” was a form of communication for both of us when she could no longer hold a normal conversation.

In my experience as a caregiver for seniors, music therapy supported a sense of well-being once we identified what kind of music would help my parents focus on any task at hand — even the simple task of singing.

One compelling testimonial about the benefits of music therapy comes from Music and Memory, a non-profit organization that brings personalized music into the lives of the elderly or infirm through digital music technology, vastly improving quality of life.

If you care for a loved one with a memory disorder, try going down memory lane with their favorite music. It’ll be good for both of you!


maria de los angelesMaria de los Angeles is an award-winning writer based in Miami who became a caregiver to her parents in 2008. Since then, she has been a passionate advocate for eldercare and caregiver issues.


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