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What Are the Benefits of Music Therapy for Seniors and Older Adults?

We all know the feelings and memories that different songs evoke – a song that harkens to our first love, reminds us of happy times in our childhood, that our parents use to play in the early evenings, that we used to sing with our friends.

Our loved ones have these same memories tucked away, too. And there is some evidence that these memories are easier for them to retrieve than names or faces. Current research on music therapy for seniors indicates that the areas of the brain that store musical memories are relatively unaffected by Alzheimer’s, dementia, and Parkinson’s. Even playing an instrument is tucked away in a part of the brain that can remain untouched by their ailment. Some studies have reported that listening to music can even bridge the gap for a recall of specific memories.


In non-demented Parkinson’s disease, music can lead to more fluid motor flow, such as dancing. The emotional experience of listening to music can increase the release of dopamine, which is a brain chemical lacking in those with Parkinson’s disease. Unfortunately, this improvement stops the moment the music does. For dementia patients, the benefit of music can improve mood, behavior, and cognitive function far beyond when the music stops.

Healthy adults who are learning to play an instrument show improved performance on some cognitive tests. While playing music, multiple areas of the brain are activated and, in the long run, this can help reconnect the two sides of the brain. Perhaps it is never too early for all of us to start using music to help prevent cognitive decline.


While specific goals should be guided by a licensed Music Therapist, there is certainly a benefit to providing your loved one a musical outlet. Consider creating playlists they can use to sing along or tap their feet. If they used to play a musical instrument, perhaps giving them access will spark old memories

Combining songs with a daily routine makes necessary activities like eating and washing easier. The practice develops a rhythm that helps recall memory of that activity, empowering someone whose body and mind need all the help it can get.

Listen to the music with your senior, especially at first. Look for clues in their facial gestures and body language to gauge the effect the song is having on their mood. Music can be stimulating or soothing. It can conjure a range of emotions from elation and joy to melancholy and irritation. Music can turn a bad mood around, trigger lost memories, and ground people to the present moment. If you feel a song or playlist is having an adverse effect, remove it from the playlist.


  1. Think about their preferences. Ask them directly or gauge their reactions to a range of music.

  2. Involve family and friends by asking them to suggest songs or make playlists.

  3. Set the mood. To calm your loved one during mealtime, sundown, or a morning hygiene routine, play music or sing a song that’s soothing. To boost your loved one’s mood or help them get moving, use more upbeat music.

  4. Sing along. Singing along to music together can boost the mood and enhance your relationship.

  5. Avoid overstimulation. When playing music, eliminate competing noises. Turn off the TV. Shut the door. Opt for music that isn’t interrupted by commercials, which can cause confusion.

  6. Encourage movement. Help your loved one to clap along or tap his or her feet to the beat. If possible, consider dancing with your loved one.

  7. Pay attention to your loved one’s response. If your loved one seems to enjoy particular songs, play them often. If your loved one reacts negatively to a song or type of music, choose something else.


Sound healing is similar in some ways to music therapy, but sound healing uses specific frequencies to facilitate healing of the brain and body. Tools such as bells, gongs, tuning forks, and the voice are used to create healing vibrations. Many participants in sound therapy sessions report deep feelings of relaxation, recalling memories that were previously lost to them, and sudden inspiration.

Home Care Tip

Be creative! Give yourself permission to try something new with your loved one. Create a special playlist, make a new dish, dance a jig, or finger paint. You never know what joy you may find together when you dare to give something new a try. Looking for caregiving inspiration? Try respite care. Sometimes giving ourselves permission to step away for a few hours gives us the space we need to think differently about a situation. Give us a call about music therapy for seniors today. We Can Help! 615-422-7549

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