by EBSCO Medical Review Board

Dementia is a health problem that slowly alters the way a person learns, acts, and remembers. It starts with mild memory problems and leads to a greater loss of memory and function. Most people with it also have depression, agitation, and anxiety. Some lifestyle changes have been shown to help ease symptoms. Certain medicines can also slow this health problem and ease some symptoms.

Researchers wanted to assess the effects of music-based therapeutic interventions for people with dementia. The study, published in The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, found that music therapy likely lowers depressive symptoms and helps behavioral problems. It may also help emotional well-being and quality of life and ease anxiety.

About the Study

The meta-analysisincluded 22 randomized controlled trials comparing music therapy to reading, cognitive stimulation, cooking, games, and TV in 1,097 adults with dementia in institutional settings. Participants in the music therapy groups received five or more sessions of music therapy in either an individual or group setting. Most music therapy sessions were either active therapy in the form of singing or playing instruments or receptive music therapy, such as listening to music.

At the end of the intervention, the review did not find any changes in agitation, aggression, or cognition. However, the review did find that music therapy was linked to:

  • Better well-being and quality of life
  • Fewer symptoms of depression
  • Less anxiety
  • Fewer problem behaviors
  • Better social behavior

Four or more weeks after the intervention ended, there were no major differences between the intervention and the control groups. Music therapy may only help in the short term.

How Does This Affect You?

A meta-analysis combines many studies to create a larger pool of participants. The larger the pool the more sound the results are. However, the review is only as sound as the studies that are in it. The 21 music therapy studies used differing interventions and controls, making it harder to pool and compare data. Also, though there were some benefits they may not be significant enough to make meaningful differences.

Music therapy is easy and safe to do. It may be a helpful part of a dementia care program. If you have a loved one with dementia and want to learn about alternative methods to manage the condition, talk to a doctor and care team.


Alzheimer's Association  

National Institute on Aging—National Institutes of Health 


Behavioral disturbance in patients with dementia. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: . Updated November 30, 2018. Accessed December 17, 2018.

van der Steen JT, Smaling HJ, et al. Music-based therapeutic interventions for people with dementia. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2018 Jul 23;7:CD003477.

What is music therapy? American Music Therapy Association website. Available at: . Accessed December 17, 2018.

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board
  • Review Date: 12/2018