Welcome to the fourth post in the Why Music Therapy Works series! If you like this post, be sure to check out the other posts in the series!

Aging is a part of life. We live, we get older, and frequently need continued supports as we do so. This post addresses two aspects of aging: Supports needed as we age healthfully, and supports needed when a type of dementia is present. Many of these reasons that music therapy works parallel each other, and can be used in both circumstances.

Music Promotes Communication: The ability to state our needs is necessary for our caregivers to provide us the best service that they can. For many older adults in nursing care, this statement of need becomes less frequent as they adjust to the routines of their facility, or become unable to voice those needs. Music therapy provides a wonderful opportunity for older adults to make choices and requests, as well as to provide an avenue of communication through singing. Many adults suffering from dementia have difficulty verbalizing their wants and needs, but practice through singing can provide opportunity for them to work on breath control and pronunciation.

Music is tied to our memories: “Listening to music can have strong effects on people’s moods, thinking, and even their physiology, which constitutes a probable reason certain songs remind us so vividly of a specific memory. That being said, memory is a mental system that receives, stores, organizes, alters, and recovers information from sensory input. Emotions and memory are very much linked, and because music is charged emotionally, it can trigger past memories, good and bad.” Dr. John Carpente

Music Makes Us Move: It can be seen in the tapping of the toe to a popular song. Music makes us want to move. For many older adults, loss of mobility and motor function is a difficulty encountered. With a music therapist, practice of exercises can be achieved in a fun and enjoyable way that is naturally rewarding.

Making Music is Social and Enjoyable: As I have stated in other posts in this series, participating in music is inherently social. Older adults—be it due to lack of mobility, cognitive decline, or a variety of other reasons—often experience a degree of social isolation. Participation in music therapy allows for interaction with their peers and therapist, and promotes leisure skills and, as stated above, creates avenues of communication for statements of need. Adults with late stages of dementia benefit from the one to one interaction with a music therapist when group therapy may not be appropriate.

There are, of course, many more reasons that music therapy works for older adults and dementia. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!


Cevasco, A.M. & Grant, R.E. (2003). Comparison of different methods for eliciting exercise-to-music for clients with Alzheimer’s Disease. Journal of Music Therapy 40(1), 41-56.

Clair, A.A. (1996). The effect of singing on alert responses in persons with late stage dementia. Journal of Music Therapy, 33(4), 234-247.

Gregory, D. (2002). Music listening for maintaining attention of older adults with cognitive impairments. Journal of Music Therapy, 39(4), 244-264.

Hanser, S.B., & Thompson, L.W. (1994). Effects of a music therapy strategy on depressed older adults. Journal of Gerontology, 49(6), P265-9.

Schaeffer, J. (n.d.). Music therapy in dementia treatment —recollection through sound. Aging Well Magazine, Retrieved from http://www.agingwellmag.com/news/story1.shtml