Music Makes Life Better

The benefits of using music in dementia care.

This article was written by a guest contributor, and the views, thoughts and opinions expressed in this article belong solely to the author.

Music is a human experience that accompanies us through various life passages and becomes associated with the people, places, events and feelings in our lives.

In the context of human relationships, music may offer the words when it is difficult to know what to say. Bonds are made between people and music. It can be shared between two people or two thousand.

Where memories are at stake, music may not be forgotten. Dr. Oliver Sacks, an acclaimed American neurologist, says that music holds the key for connecting with the preserved self. Familiar music especially helps to restructure identity.

This may be because music is cross coded into life passages and is a powerful stimulus for the brain. Music reaches into places where neural activity may still be intact or least somewhat active, when semantics, comprehension, working memory and processing are getting muddled and lost.

Music is brain pervasive

Photo courtesy of Canva.

Because music supports and stimulates memory, words and tunes may be remembered when names, faces and menus are forgotten. Neuroscience tells us that music gets stored in both sides of the brain and processed in many places. This may be why musical events are retained because they are stored beyond an impacted area.

Singing in particular is brain nourishing. The singing system will often take over when there is a deficit in the speech system. The neural pathways of remembering songs may still be intact. Words may be sung when they are not able to be spoken.

Music triggers and helps us recollect events, people and places which have emotional connections that have been important and meaningful. When memories are first stored, feelings are often attached with that memory. We know that memories are stronger when attached to emotions.

"Engaging in musical interaction becomes an opportunity for connection, intimacy and communication."

– Bev Foster, Founder and Executive Director, Room 217 Foundation

Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Music deepens relationships

Music is a form of non-verbal communication. Engaging in musical interaction becomes an opportunity for connection, intimacy and communication. This may happen through music listening, music-making or engaging in musical conversations.

I’ve born witness to the power of music keeping me connected to my grandma, who lived with vascular dementia. When I visited her in her [nursing] home, I wheeled Nan to the piano and played some tunes. During the last five years of her life, music was the means of our connection.

We can all use music

Whether you are musical or not, the Room 217 Foundation has developed an approach called music care that can be used by all care partners.

Music care is the intentional use of music by anyone to improve health and well-being for yourself and others. The music care approach promotes the application of sound and music to be used in formal health-care settings and community or home-based contexts.

We provide tools, strategies, and standards.

Music care products offer musical tools designed with specific care outcomes in mind. For example, our Pathways Singing Program for Memory Care has been artfully created with social engagement and cohesion goals. Facilitated by a singing host, participants engage in singing songs with their friends and loved ones. Beautiful images and meaningful activities accompany the videos.

Music care education and training empower formal and informal caregivers with confidence, skills and strategies to integrate music into their regular practice. Standardized training, online courses, webinars and free resources are available for care partners. We present an annual music care conference.

Music care certification is now available for individuals and organizations looking to raise the standard of their music care delivery. Using a fully supported process, this achievement program raises the quality of music in care.

We believe that music makes life better at any age and stage and will escort us through all of life’s journey.


Explore how musiccare by Room 217 is empowering care partners to provide life-enriching music care.

Read more articles about music and dementia, such as The Soothing Power of Music and Music & Memories.


Bev Foster, MA, BEd, BMus, ARCT, AMus, is the founder and executive director of the Room 217 Foundation, a Canadian social enterprise dedicated to enriching the care experience with music.