The Benefits of Music


The potential benefits of music for people with dementia is something that has been gaining increasing publicity these days – yet it’s something that many care professionals have already known intuitively – I’m sure that most of us have a story about that lady who hardly spoke, and yet would come alive when music from her youth was played – and sing every word!

Or we may have seen one of several videos doing the rounds of YouTube – my favourite is still Henry  – who changes from seeming withdrawn and isolated at the beginning of the clip, becoming filled with joy at hearing his favourite music, and saying – ‘you’ve got beautiful music – I feel a band of love!” with delight.

It’s a far cry from when I began doing this work – the first time I walked into a hospital ward with a bag of instruments, I was greeted with ‘Well – that won’t work with our patients – they’re too far gone’. Thankfully things have changed – from my own experience I know that no one is really ever ‘too far gone’ – and that it’s possible to reach someone who can seem like they have nothing left. I once experienced a duet with a man who was very near the end of his journey – it was one of the most moving experiences of my life – and taught me so much about the power of listening. (You can hear the full story here)

Here in the UK, a study by the International Longevity Centre reviewed a wide range of evidence, and concluded that “music helps to minimise some of the symptoms of dementia, such as agitation, and can help to tackle anxiety and depression. We can also observe the considerable value of music in improving the quality of life for people with dementia, by helping to increase social interaction and decreasing stress hormones”.  However, it also estimated that only 5% of people in care homes has meaningful access to music – and if that was averaged out, it would equal about 30 seconds a week per person with dementia.

In other recent news, it was found that only 1 hour a week of social contact can significantly affect the quality of life of people with dementia. Music can be a vital tool to help create and nurture that social contact – it brings people into a sense of togetherness, of shared experience, of community. In another project I have had the privilege of sharing time with patients in a hospital assessment ward on a creative music project: of making music together – not just listening. The active nature of the music turned changed the atmosphere from a group of seemingly isolated individuals, to one where people would share, laugh, play, and relate to each other. Music becomes the common language – particularly when someone no longer has access to words.

So… it seems that the world has caught up with what we knew instinctively: nowadays we generally do think that music is ‘a good thing’ – and would often like to do more of it, but sometimes lack confidence in our own abilities – we may not feel ‘musical’ enough to be able to share with our residents. Well – the good news is that you don’t need to be an expert musician to help improve the quality of peoples’ lives through music. This is why we’ve set up ‘A daily Dose of Music’ – to help give you resources and ideas for making music – and the confidence to know when, where, and what kind of musical activity might best fit the bill.

We have an international team of six facilitators who have years of experience in helping seniors relate through music, and who will bring a treasure trove of ideas, resources, and inspiration to help you bring the joy of musical connection into the lives of those who need it most – and help make a ‘daily dose of music’ a reality.

See you in Vancouver!


Dr Jane Bentley,

Glasgow, Scotland

Watch a short video of Jane’s work in hospital here