Music Therapy in Dementia Care

Music therapy has been recommended as a psychosocial intervention in the UK National Dementia Strategy (Department of Health, 2009). Qualitative results from a study conducted by Methodist Homes in collaboration with Anglia Ruskin University show that care staff reported positive effects on residents’ symptoms and functioning as a result of the music therapy programme. This supports a study carried out in Scandinavia (Ridder et al, 2013) demonstrating that music therapy reduces agitation and the need for medication for dementia in residential homes after only six weeks of individual music therapy. This is positive confirmation of the power of music therapy to help people with dementia. (British Association for Music Therapy)


How do music therapists work?


Music therapists work with elements of music such as pitch, melody, rhythm and harmony. We apply our professional knowledge and experience to work with clients using clinical improvisation (voice, percussion instruments, keyboards), receptive listening (choosing and using familiar recorded music), songwriting and therapeutic performance. Other elements including movement, dance, sensory equipment and imagery may also be used in sessions.



The therapist takes time to understand each client’s backgrounds and needs. For example, getting to know the client’s surrounding and the people who look after the client e.g. carers, nurses, home managers, family members. 



The therapist encourages the client to participate, this could be listening to music, playing instruments, or singing. The session is very much client-led, so the therapist will follow the lead and suggests appropriate activity when needed. Sometimes, the client may need silence and that would be acknowledged. This approach helps the client to explore a sense of self in a non-judgmental way and gives space for expressions. 



Note-writing about the session and a copy is made for the client’s care file. 


The therapist gives feedback to relevant staff to update about the session and when necessary provide advice for staff to use in certain situations. For example, singing a particular song with the client to help lifting the mood or give support in personal care. 


After a series of sessions, the therapist can give training to relevant staff/family members who look after the client to maximise the benefits of music therapy sessions. 



A study carried out in Scandinavia (Ridder et al, 2013) demonstrates that music therapy reduces agitation and the need for medication for dementia in residential homes after only 6 weeks of individual music therapy. 

The full study can be found from this link.