There Is No Magic Music For Alzheimer's Disease – Part Two

This is the second of a three-part series. Click to read part one and part three. The fact that music can profoundly affect people with dementia is not news, but finding exactly what music “works” for people with Alzheimer’s Disease and related dementias can be a challenge. What is important to know is that there is no “magic music” for Alzheimer’s Disease – no one-size-fits-all recording or musical experience that can do what almost looks like a magic for someone with dementia. In the first post in this series, you read that relationship matters in music therapy and any use of music in caregiving. Next time, we’ll look at the relationship between the caregiver and care recipient in a musical experiences, but for now, let’s look at the relationship the listener has with the music itself.

Their Relationship With The Music Matters

Basically, what I mean by this statement is that it matters whether your care recipient has heard a particular song or type of music before, whether they like it, and what memories it brings back.

Music Preference

In the music therapy world, we often talk about music preference – whether someone likes opera or rap, Frank Sinatra or Taylor Swift. Music preference certainly matters. We know, for example, that it is difficult to relax to music you don’t like. If you hate the sound of the soprano saxophone, then Kenny G is not easy listening for you.

Musical Associations

There is more to your relationship with music than liking or disliking a particular song, though. In addition, it matters what associations someone might have with a particular kind of music. For example, your mother may love to hear “Rock of Ages” and “The Old Rugged Cross,” but for her tablemate in the dining room, those songs might bring back painful memories of parents who died when she was a child. Or, your loved one might love country western music but hate Hank Williams, because he was an alcoholic and a druggie. It doesn’t matter that Hank Williams is a country music icon if his music brings up reminds them of an alcoholic relative or personal struggles with addiction.


Another aspect of a person’s relationship with music that can be important is the person’s familiarity with a particular musical selection. I often recommend looking for familiar music to share with your loved ones with dementia, because familiar music can help people connect to good memories. That’s what we see at work in the viral video of Henry. Still, believe it or not, familiarity is not always a requirement, and it is not always sufficient to bring about those amazing moments we’re all looking for. That’s because it also matters how you spend your time in music with your loved one. We’ll dig deeper into that aspect in the next post, but for now, what have you observed about how a person’s relationship with music affects what “works” for them? Please leave your comments below!]]>


  1. JoAnn Jordan (@JordanEM) on June 19, 2013 at 10:14 pm

    Great summary, Rachelle. This post is another great reference for people wanting to know more about music and music therapy.

    • Jeanie Rhodes on June 21, 2013 at 8:31 am

      I agree! Educating the public is a crucial part of being a Music Therapist.

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