The Therapeutic Power of Music

A smiling and content man wearing headphones shows the emotional power of therapeutic music.

By Jeannie Finnegan, Care Placement Consultant & Dementia Care Specialist, Stanton Aging Solutions

We have all been touched by music in many ways — perhaps soothed by a calming melody, motivated to exercise by an upbeat tune, brought to tears by a song linked to a special memory, or inspired to hit the dance floor with a favorite party song. These are just some of the ways that we instinctively use music therapeutically in our everyday lives. Music has the unique ability to stimulate multiple “brain centers” simultaneously, making it the most powerful art form there is. It can unlock the brain in ways that nothing else can. This is true even when someone has advanced dementia, is unable to speak, or is living with a debilitating illness.

Music is like a master key that unlocks many doors at once, especially when it is personally meaningful to the listener and a time they share with a family member or caregiver. It stimulates long-term memories, speech and vocal fluency, emotions, movement and motor control, and spiritual connection. This is why we can remember and sing the words of a song we haven’t heard in years. This is how a single song can instantly transport us to a specific time, place or event, or remember a particular person. This is why a song can make us laugh, smile, cry, or become wistful. It is why we instinctively want to move, tap our toes, or snap our fingers to a catchy beat. It is also how some people connect more deeply with their faith through music.

All of these reasons are why music is such an incredibly valuable and effective therapeutic tool for individuals with Alzheimer’s or related dementias, neurocognitive disorders, chronic and terminal illnesses, traumatic brain injuries, and other conditions.  By using brain scanning technology, we can actually see in real-time how areas of the brain light up when personally meaningful music is played.

Everyone Can Enjoy Music

Many individuals with advanced dementia, for example, may not be able to answer a yes or no question and yet can sing the words and melody to a beloved tune from long ago. Even when they may not respond verbally to music, you may see rhythmic movement in the tapping of a toe or clapping of hands. Music can bring back memories of long ago and with them the emotions that surrounded that time or that particular song. And music can feed the soul. Studies have shown that those with dementia can engage in spiritual activities, including spiritual music, in meaningful ways. Music clearly brings joy and meaning and can absolutely enhance quality of life.

This is why we strongly encourage seniors and their families to set aside time to enjoy music. It creates a pleasant, calming, and meaningful activity that patients and caregivers can share. Other studies have also shown that personally meaningful music can reduce agitation, anxiety and pain. (Learn how music works to decrease pain levels.)  Music is non-pharmaceutical, free of side effects, and easily accessible, making it an even more appealing activity. There are music streaming services on our cell phones, music channels on cable TV, YouTube music videos, CD players, radio, concerts and sing-alongs, and one-on-one therapeutic music such as what our Concierge Connection Care can provide.

How to Add Music to a Senior Loved One’s Routine

Here are just a few ideas of how to bring the therapeutic power of music to seniors in your life.

  • Listen to their favorite CDs.
  • Turn on a cable music channel with their favorite genre of music.
  • Watch YouTube videos of songs from favorite musicals.
  • Watch YouTube videos of favorite hymns or worship songs.
  • Sing old “sing-along” songs.
  • Dance to favorite songs. (Seated dancing can be just as fun!)
  • Put headphones on your loved one with a playlist of their favorite music.
  • Play an instrument for/with your loved one.

Learn More

For further reading on the therapeutic power of music for seniors and others, we recommend this book written by Jeannie Finnegan, one of our dementia care specialists: The Miracle of Music: Stories of Hope, Understanding, and Inspiration, available here on Amazon.

Contact us to learn more about bringing music to those you are caring for and how we can help! Please reach out to us at or call us at (443) 812-1028.

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