Music and Memory

close up of a vinyl record on a record player

How Music Affects Memory for Older Adults

Why Music Is Critical for Dementia and Alzheimer’s Patients

When you feel sad, is there a song or playlist that you turn to? Most of us have certain songs or bands that evoke feelings of nostalgia and serve as “comfort food.” While you may enjoy music that’s more recent, we’re betting some of your favorites come from the earlier eras of your life. This music holds special meaning to us because of the memories we associate with it.

It is that music—personalized to our lives and memories—that can be meaningful for older adults suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. A 2020 study from the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis—titled The Impact of Music & Memory on Resident Level Outcomes in California Nursing Homes—followed 4,107 residents in 265 different California nursing homes for three years. The study found that the use of antipsychotic drugs declined by 13 percent and anti–anxiety medications declined by 17 percent each quarter for residents with dementia participating in the program.

Many aging services providers are looking for ways to incorporate music into the daily routine of their residents and patients with dementia and early–to–middle stage Alzheimer’s—and more programs are popping up across the country to do just that. For example, the non–profit organization MUSIC & MEMORY® “helps individuals with a wide range of cognitive and physical conditions to engage with the world, ease pain, and reclaim their humanity through the use of personalized music.”


When older adults with dementia listen to music, the experience can:

  • Improve their quality of life and care
  • Activate their cognition
  • Lead to improved family visits
  • Boost their spirit
  • Brighten their mood


If your loved one is suffering from dementia or early onset Alzheimer’s, consider using the power of personalized music to improve their quality of life. We are here to help provide any support or guidance.

Contact McGregor