Music in reminiscence therapy

  • by Kate Bowman
  • September 22, 2023

Music, as a central element of this therapy, has the power to stimulate memories, improve mood, facilitate social interaction, and provide a means of communication for those with cognitive impairments. It offers a holistic and enjoyable way to connect with and support individuals as they navigate the challenges of dementia.

I believe it was Plato who said, ‘Music is the medicine of the soul’. Working in aged care over the years, I have witnessed ‘soul medicine’ working in practice. We all know that music and songs can make us happy, sad or nostalgic- and sometimes the same emotions are experienced together.

We all know that classical music can help reduce stress levels by triggering neurotransmitters in the brain to release serotonin and dopamine. These are mood enhancers which increase our happiness levels. Other music can make us euphoric, giving a sense of exhilaration and joy.

Starting with our initial exposure to music in the nursery, growing up, our teenage years to favourite songs shared when in love.

The first dance at their wedding for the bride and groom is the most significant, always remembered with great affection.

Over the years, we build a library of meaningful songs, music, and melodies within our minds, which we can recall at a moment’s notice when we hear that tune again.

I always recall a lady I cared for in Tasmania, let’s call her Grace, who entered the aged care facility with middle-stage dementia and had previously had a very successful career as a music teacher in a prestigious school in Victoria. Originally from the North of England, she had been an accomplished opera singer in the UK before meeting her husband and starting a new life in Australia.

From the moment Grace was awake, her day was centred around singing and music in her mind, from showering, dressing, and throughout the day until bedtime; she had a remarkable recall for the lyrics and melody. Music was her safety net from the disease, which had cruelly taken over her life; Grace would always appear content in her world of music.

The joy she found within songs personal to her was phenomenal, to say the least, especially when someone would join in singing a song; her eyes would light up with sheer joy and pleasure.

Music can help lift spirits and often awaken memories that have lain dormant for years; especially for a person living with dementia, music can be a temporary escape to a happier time. Everyone has varying tastes and preferences in music styles specific to optimising the best outcome. When you think about the association of photographic images and how they can attach the memory to a particular piece of music, they can serve well in accompanying a positive, memorable experience. The most favourable way of creating this skill is by sharing the joy found within the music.

Music therapy or reminiscence can work well for many people with dementia, acting as a valuable tool in igniting memories. Knowing the person from family & friends enables care staff to provide personalised playlists for each individual. That is what ‘person-centred care’ aims to achieve.

I have witnessed some of the positive responses music and film can make; films such as ‘South Pacific’ and ‘The Sound of Music’, especially with the visual aspect, can create an added layer of pleasure for the person.

Music speaks all languages and crosses many cultures and diversity, lifting the spirits and enriching the soul, warming the heart, and helping to deal with loneliness and depression.

Any given melody can become someone’s memory, where words fail you in life; music speaks all languages.

This is an excerpt of an article written by Michael Preston, Kiama Dementia Friendly Project Officer for Hello Care. Click here to read the full article.


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