1. Hale, Deborah MSN, RN, ACNS-BC
  2. Marshall, Katherine DNP, NP, PMHCNS-BC, CNE

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Caring for a loved one with dementia can be a daunting task. In addition to cognitive changes, dementia patients can be agitated, stressed, depressed, or anxious, making their care even more difficult. Additionally, their emotional connections with loved ones are not as strong as they typically were prior to the disease. Caregivers are often unsure of the best methods to care for the dementia patient, and rely on home healthcare clinicians to provide tools for best practices. Music therapy is one method of helping provide a better quality of life for dementia patients and their caregivers.


Music has shown some positive results in dementia therapy, especially because key brain areas linked to musical memory are often untouched by the disease (Radford, 2019). There are varying degrees of severity with dementia and it appears that music can evoke emotion in even the most advanced stages (Sauer, 2014). Advanced dementia patients can lose their ability to share emotions, so music can help the patient and caregiver share a bond that would not otherwise be present (Sauer).


There are many benefits to music in the care of dementia patients. Music can shift mood, manage stress-induced agitation, stimulate positive interactions, facilitate cognitive function, and help coordinate motor movements (Sauer, 2014). Home healthcare clinicians should encourage dementia patients to engage in music and musical movies that they enjoy, as these will provide the best results. Following are more tips for best results with music therapy:


1. Have family and friends help with playlists that evoke happy times or that they know the patient enjoyed. If unsure, recommend common, popular songs such as "The Sound of Music," "When you Wish upon a Star," or "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."


2. Play soothing music during times that may be stressful, such as mealtime or the morning hygiene routine. Save upbeat or faster paced music for when trying to boost the patient's mood.


3. Avoid overstimulation! Turn off the television and play the music at a volume appropriate for the patient. Too many competing noises will cause confusion and agitation.


4. Encourage movement-clapping hands, tapping feet, or dancing (if able) will provide even more brain stimulation.


5. Sing along to some of the songs. When dementia patients are able to engage in singing, more of the brain is stimulated, which can help cognitive functioning even after the singing is over. Singing can improve dementia patients' ability to recall names of children, friends, and immediate short story recall (Devere, 2017).


6. Pay attention to the patient's response to the music. If the patient enjoys certain songs, play them more often. If they react negatively to the music, try a different song or type of music.



The aim of music therapy is to address emotions, cognitive powers, thoughts, and memories. By stimulating and bringing these to the forefront, dementia patients can lead a more enriched life. Home healthcare clinician can help educate caregivers on the positive aspects of music therapy and encourage the caregivers to have dementia patients listen, sing along, and move to songs for full benefits.




Devere R. (2017). Music and dementia: An overview. Practical Neurology, 16(5), 32-35. [Context Link]


Radford J. (2019). How can music help people who have Alzheimer's disease? Retrieved from[Context Link]


Sauer A. (2014). 5 Reasons why music boosts brain activity. Retrieved from[Context Link]