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Music as Therapy

Music is a language of energy, a “vibe” of emotions and joy. It speaks to our core desires and feelings. Music can also be a mirror to help us better understand our own inner-world of thoughts, emotions and feelings. Although it has been around for 100 years, there is an emerging field of music therapy which is beginning to document the psychological and physical effects of listening to music.

Studies suggest that music therapy can make a positive impact on patients with various medical ailments such as (but not limited to) brain injury, Muscular Dystrophy, cancer, autism, amputation, high blood pressure, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, and dementia. There are no claims music therapy can cure cancer or the other diseases mentioned, but according to The American Cancer Society medical experts do believe it can reduce some symptoms, aid healing, improve physical movement, and enrich a patient’s quality of life.

According to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, degenerative disorder that attacks the brain’s nerve cells, or neurons, resulting in loss of memory, thinking and language skills, and behavioral changes. Dementia, is a general term that describes a group of symptoms-such as loss of memory, judgment, language, complex motor skills, and other intellectual function-caused by the permanent damage or death of the brain’s nerve cells, or neurons.

Based on more than 30 years of experience, the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function (IMNF) has found that despite losses in cognitive ability, short–term memory and changes in behavior, people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia have the ability to recognize music of personal importance. Favorite music or songs associated with important personal events can trigger memory of lyrics and the experience connected to the music. Beloved music often calms chaotic brain activity and enables the listener to focus on the present moment and regain a connection to others.

Musical memories are stored in various areas of the brain, a complex code of language, movement, processing and emotion.  Music can be a handy way to regulate mood or help pace the day, which can bring someone with dementia moments of wholeness and clarity that they likely do not experience often.  Music Therapy can also be a way for patients to connect, even after verbal communication has become difficult. That’s why many people with Alzheimer’s are able to sing, play an instrument, dance or hum along after other cognitive abilities have failed.

What exactly is Music Therapy?

According to American Music Therapy Association:

Music Therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.

When music therapy is administered and used appropriately, music can shift mood, manage stress-induced agitation, stimulate positive interactions, facilitate cognitive function, and coordinate motor movements. 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.

Which type of music works best during music therapy is very individualized; Identify music that’s familiar and enjoyable to the person. If possible, let the person choose the music. Selections from the individual’s young adult years—ages 18 to 25—are most likely to have the strongest responses and the most potential for engagement.

Sample Playlist for Dementia Patients by Jeff Anderson – ( 

  1. “You Are My Sunshine”
  2. “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain
  3. “This Land is Your Land”
  4. “Amazing Grace”
  5. “Over the Rainbow” – Judy Garland
  6. “Pennies from Heaven” – Bing Crosby
  7. “Moonlight Serenade” – Glen Miller
  8. “A-Tisket A-Tasket” – Ella Fitzgerald
  9. “Moon Glow” – Benny Goodman
  10. “Nature Boy” – Nat King Cole
  11. “Memories are Made of This” – Dean Martin
  12. “Wheel of Fortune” – Kay Starr
  13. “Five Minutes More” – Frank Sinatra
  14. “Look for the Silver Lining” – Chet Baker
  15. The Goldberg Variations – J.S. Bach


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