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5 Reasons Music Therapy Might Help the Older Adults in Your Life

Caregiving for someone with dementia can be exhausting, frustrating, and deeply lonely. Your schedule revolves around appointments, bills, and adult day care or aide hours. Although most older persons see a physician regularly, music therapy visits aren’t as common- but maybe they should be.


Music therapy has been shown to have a particularly strong impact with older adults who have cognitive impairment.


In this blog post, we’ll look at the impact of music on the 5 areas of wellbeing: Physical, Mental, Emotional/Social, Spiritual, and Sensory.

The population of the United States is rapidly aging. Alzheimer’s rates are expected to triple by 2050 (Hurd, Martorell & Langa, 2015), which means more and more families are caring for family members with dementia, or other medical needs.

Sensory Benefits

Sensory stimulation is a vital component to quality of life and music therapy manages to engage visual, tactile, and aural centers simultaneously. Persons with dementia often appear to become more and more withdrawn as their disease progresses. Music Therapy provides much needed stimulation as well as interaction with others.


Spiritual Benefits

Music and spirituality are inextricably linked. Many older adults grew up singing in the church choir, or perhaps even served as a cantor or pianist for a religious group. As we get older, spirituality often plays a larger role and music can be an accessible way to share our faith with peers or family members. Individual music therapy can be particularly effective in addressing spiritual needs.


Emotional/Social Benefits

While listening to preferred recorded music can create profound reactions in older adults, we all know that using headphones is an (intentionally) isolating experience. Retreating into your own private world of Joni Mitchell or The Weepies (take notes, my future caregivers) can be magical, but if you already have difficulty getting the social interaction we as humans need, headphones may create another barrier. Live music making necessitates communication, and often acts as a great equalizer for folks of differing linguistic abilities. In the same way that musicians who speak different languages can still jam together, older adults with differing cognitive function can still share music together and connect through a gratifying, meaningful experience.


Mental Benefits

The use of psychotropic drugs on older adults is widespread, but perhaps not entirely necessary. Music therapy has been shown to reduce the psychological and behavioral symptoms of dementia, and can be a safer alternative to medications, which may cause adverse side effects (De Oliveira, Radanovic, de Mello, Buchain, Vizzotto, Celestino &Forlenza, 2015). Music Therapy has been shown to reduce depression among older adults (Chan, Wong, Onishi & Thayala, 2012), and music therapy can be a safe space to “hold” difficult emotions. My grandparents weren’t too keen on talking about their feelings, and perhaps your elders held similar views against psychotherapy and the like.


Music Therapy can be an easier entry (after all, who doesn’t like music?) into mental health care than traditional talk therapy.


In addition, the successful experience of playing an instrument and creating music can address feelings of helplessness and powerlessness, and improve self-esteem and mood. There’s a reason we use the phrase “feel like a rockstar.”


Physical Benefits

In addition to psychotropic medications, many older adults are also on medications unrelated to a dementia diagnosis. Music Therapy has been shown to create statistically significant differences in lowering high blood pressure (Loomba, Arora, Shah, Chandrasekar & Molnar, 2012) and can be an important element of non-pharmacological symptom management. For persons who have suffered a stroke, rhythmic auditory stimulation in gait training (Thaur, 1997) can lead to better physical therapy outcomes in regaining the ability to walk.

The process of playing percussion instruments or moving to music can create opportunities for enjoyable low-impact exercise, which is important at every age. Additionally, using music reduces the perceived effort of force by 15% while simultaneously increasing endurance by 15% (Lim, Miller & Fabian, 2011). All this to say, exercise feels easier when supported by music. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather engage in a vigorous drum circle than lift weights to an old Jack LaLanne video.

In conclusion…

With all the demands and intricacies of caring for older adults, music therapy has a unique potential to address multiple aspects of their well being simultaneously.

If you think your loved one would respond to the interventions I’ve listed here, group or individual music therapy services could make a world of difference in their (and your) quality of life.

Schedule a free consultation to learn how music therapy may help your parent or older adult family member.

We'd love to meet you both!


P.S.- We will be starting a NEW GROUP for caregivers and older adults in the next coming months! Contact us if you are interested in joining the wait list!!!

Limited seats are available.

Catherine Backus, MT-BC


Chan, M. F., Wong, Z. Y., Onishi, H. and Thayala, N. V. (2012), Effects of music on depression in older people: a randomised controlled trial. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 21: 776–783. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2702.2011.03954.x

De Oliveira, A. M., Radanovic, M., de Mello, P. C. H., Buchain, P. C., Vizzotto, A. D. B., Celestino, D. L., … Forlenza, O. V. (2015). Nonpharmacological Interventions to Reduce Behavioral and Psychological Symptoms of Dementia: A Systematic Review. BioMed Research International, 2015, 218980.

Hurd, M. D., Martorell, P., & Langa, K. (2015). Future Monetary Costs of Dementia in the United States under Alternative Dementia Prevalence Scenarios. Journal of Population Ageing, 8(1-2), 101–112.

Lim, H. A., Miller, K., & Fabian, C. (2011). The effects of therapeutic instrumental music performance on endurance level, self-perceived fatigue level, and self-perceived exertion of inpatients in physical rehabilitation. Journal of music therapy, 48(2), 124-148.

Loomba, R. S., Arora, R., Shah, P. H., Chandrasekar, S., & Molnar, J. (2012). Effects of music on systolic blood pressure, diastolic blood pressure, and heart rate: a meta-analysis. Indian Heart Journal, 64(3), 309–313.

Thaut, M.H et al. (1997). Rhythmic facilitation of gait training in hemiparetic stroke rehabilitation. Journal of the Neurological Sciences, 151 (2) , 207 - 212

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