Throughout our lives, we listen to, take part in, and dance to music and sound.
For people with dementia – even those who have lost their ability to communicate or are at the end of their life – music can be a powerful way to trigger positive feelings and connect with other people.
Listening to or engaging in music – for example, by singing, dancing or playing instruments – can help people with dementia develop and maintain relationships with others and improve their wellbeing.
help them to express their feelings and ideas, verbally and non-verbally
act as a prompt for reminiscing
help them to ‘tell their story’ and share their personal history
encourage physical exercise, dance or movement
encourage social interaction, reduce isolation, and help to engage people in group activities
reduce distress – it may be particularly helpful while giving personal care like washing and dressing
Music can also help a person with dementia to connect with the past by evoking memories, feelings and emotions that they might otherwise find hard to express.
For example, they may find it easier to recall memories when they hear pieces of music that are significant to them – perhaps their favourite song from the past, or a lullaby they used to sing to their children.
Music can be used in a group or individually – both at home and in care settings. You could try:
listening and singing along to favourite pieces of music
listening to music played through headphones
taking part in a music or singing group or choir
listening to a live performance
compiling a personal playlist that they can listen to on a smart speaker, mobile phone or tablet
watching a favourite musical
listening to a radio station that plays music from the past
It’s important to choose music that the person knows and enjoys, as they will be more likely to react positively to it.
You can do this by asking them or other family members and friends what they like, or by trying out music that was popular in the person’s youth or within their cultural background.
Start with quiet, gentle music and see how the person reacts.
You can use music to engage and connect with the person, for example by:
holding their hand
tapping to the rhythm
singing or humming along
moving or dancing with them
You can also use pictures or photos alongside the music to reminisce and share memories.
If the person seems uncomfortable or distressed, try something different – it may just be that they don’t like that particular music or song, but bear in mind that music can also trigger negative emotions or bad memories.
If this happens, the best response may just be to turn off the music and sit with them to offer comfort and reassurance.
If you would like to speak to a specialist Admiral Nurse about using music to help a person with dementia, or any other aspect of dementia, call our free Helpline on 0800 888 6678 (Monday-Friday 9am-9pm, Saturday and Sunday 9am-5pm, every day except 25th December) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.