How Music Affects Those With Alzheimer's Disease

person with headphones

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The older you get, the more likely you are to know someone with Alzheimer's disease. It affects 6.5 million people over the age of 65 in this country, which is about one in every nine people.

In fact, 1 in 3 seniors die of Alzheimer's or another form of dementia, and seniors with it are twice as likely to die before the age of eighty than those who don't have it.

Additionally, 10% of those with Alzheimer's experience the early onset version in which they begin showing signs of the illness in their thirties or forties. Because it's a genetic disease, it's possible to get tested to find out if you have specific genes.

Alzheimer's has proven difficult to treat with pharmaceuticals, and there is not yet a known cure for it, though medications are in use to help prevent its acceleration. There is also a natural modality that may provide both relief and connection for Alzheimer's Disease patients: music.

Ahead, we'll break down everything you need to know about how music affects people with Alzheimer's, from the different ways our brains remember music despite memory loss to how it can improve mood.

Music Lifts Mood

Most people have noticed at one point or another that music has the ability to make you feel good. Whether it's cheering you up when you're down, giving you a tale of woe to relate to, or the beat makes you want to get up and dance. It's very real that music is a tool for happiness.

Music is scientifically considered an effective way to boost happiness. This is true for people in general, whether or not they have issues with their memories.

Music works so well to improve our mindsets that it is its own form of therapy. Music therapy is used to improve mental health and a person's sense of well-being, and it does so through the proven mood-lifting properties of music.

Music Can Boost Memory Retention

Losing one's memory is one of the most obvious, and most challenging, symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.

How Music Helps With Memory

Music can help with memory because it activates a part of the brain that influences it, functioning as a sort of go-between for a person who has memory problems.

One meta-analysis reviewed a total of eight studies in which music was used as a memory aid for people with dementia, and it concluded that "it was shown that the intervention with music improves cognitive function in people living with dementia, as well as the quality of life."

This means that in addition to simply helping someone feel better, music can also work to mitigate a small amount of the memory issues involved in Alzheimer's disease.

Music May Relieve Anxiety and Depression

Now that you know music has been shown to help us feel better, it should come as no surprise that it's been able to relieve depression and anxiety in Alzheimer's patients.

One study notes that "significant improvements in anxiety ... and depression ... were observed in the music therapy group."

The better we feel as a baseline, the easier it is to recover from our mental health challenges and to move forward after bouts with them. It's understandable that people with Alzheimer's disease experience depression, as the disease can be very isolating.

Additionally, they experience anxiety. This makes sense considering that not remembering details about your life would be anxiety-inducing for anyone.

Music works to relieve both depression and anxiety to varying degrees depending on the individual.

It's Hard to Completely Forget Song Lyrics

You've probably noticed that when an old song comes on, you remember a surprising amount of the lyrics still.

Some people can recall the words to a song they haven't heard in decades, even if they don't have great memories overall. That's because our brains store music memories in an area that isn't as impacted by memory loss.

Studies have found that the memories related to music are spared, unlike other memories from a person's life. It even goes so far as for someone with Alzheimer's disease to be able to recognize song lyrics that are spoken without singing—a person can then place the tune to the lyrics because they remember the words as part of a song.

Alzheimer's doesn't tend to take your musical memories. Those are left somewhat intact.

How to Help Someone Who Has Alzheimer's Disease

As you can see, music can be used as a bridge for those suffering from Alzheimer's disease. It provides them with a way to connect to others, a way to find joy, and it can help to relieve mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. If someone you know has Alzheimer's disease, here are some ways you can help.

Play Music for Them

If you're a singer or you play an instrument, offering your services to a facility that cares for people with Alzheimer's disease is an excellent way to spend your charitable time and energy.


If you do not have musical skills but you still want to use music to help improve the quality of life for Alzheimer's patients, you can play recorded music and engage alongside patients.

Singing along with them, dancing with them if they're able to, or even just humming a tune together can provide vital connection and happiness for someone with memory loss.


There are entire organizations, such as Music & Memory, which works with music for patients who will be helped by it.

If you're unsure where to begin, their website is a great place to get started. Even if you aren't musically inclined yourself, you can still be part of the process that connects music to the patients who will be helped by it.

A Word From Verywell

Alzheimer's disease can be heartbreaking for family members and loved ones who witness or experience it. If you are caring for a loved one who is living with this disease, you might not always know how to help. These tips may help you move more easily through the process. You or your family may also benefit from an Alzheimer's support group. Also, don't hesitate to reach out to a mental health professional if you're having a hard time coping.

6 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Ariane Resnick, CNC
Ariane Resnick, CNC is a mental health writer, certified nutritionist, and wellness author who advocates for accessibility and inclusivity.