5 Benefits of Music Therapy for Seniors

music therapy for seniors

Research has shown that music directly affects our present state of mind, stress levels, and overall mental health. For example, after World War I and II, many musicians travelled to different hospitals to play for veterans to ease the effects of their trauma.

Since then, many therapists have begun integrating music into therapy processes for everyone, from young children to older adults. Today, we’ll look at what music therapy is, some of the positive effects of music therapy for seniors, and some potential risks. 


What is music therapy, and how does it work? 


Music therapy is a form of therapy that uses music or audio elements to relieve stress, more deeply understand emotions and assist with therapeutic processes. Contrary to popular belief, music therapy isn’t just listening to music to calm down or feel relaxed; it is a strategic therapy session led by an accredited therapist. 

Depending on the type of music therapy used, sessions may vary in structure and organization. Still, the process is similar to regular therapy sessions in that the therapist assesses the person’s emotional and physical states – and, in this case, musical ability – to create an individualized plan. 


Different types of music therapy 


Music therapy can be divided into two main streams: active and receptive. Let’s take a closer look at the both of these: 

Active Music Therapy 


This type of music therapy involves engaging in a musical activity, whether singing, playing an instrument or dancing. Some common forms of active therapy include:  

  • Dancing. Dancing is a fairly straightforward activity. Therapists may put on music and encourage movement and expression of emotions through this movement. This session may be in a group or one-on-one setting, and some sessions may involve the movement of only your body, while others may incorporate props like flags. 
  • Singing or playing instruments. Singing or playing instruments is another common type of music therapy, where individuals may learn to sing or play for the first time or reinvigorate a previously known skill to explore their thoughts and emotions in therapy. 
  • Writing songs or improvising. This process extends beyond playing or singing prewritten music and encourages expression by creating new pieces and “musical moments,” which can promote individual creativity and collaboration. 


Receptive Music Therapy


This therapy typically involves conscious reflection on a music played live or as a recording. This type of music therapy is excellent for relaxation and easing anxiety. It may also include a discussion about feelings or the music itself afterwards. 


5 benefits of music therapy for seniors


There are numerous advantages to musical therapy for older people. We’ve compiled a list of some of those benefits below: 


1. Improves and supports coordination and cognitive function 


Learning any new skill requires coordination. It also requires a certain level of focus to become comfortable or proficient in it. Music therapy for older individuals – especially singing, dancing, or learning an instrument – can help them maintain and improve their physical coordination and cognitive function. 

Music is a workout for your brain. Learning a new instrument or learning to sing can build new pathways in the brain or revive pathways that haven’t been utilized in a long time. Even just listening to music stimulates most brain areas, including the parts responsible for memory, listening, dopamine (the happy receptors!), and creativity.  


2. A fun way to exercise 


Music is an excellent mental workout, and an activity like dancing is a great way to incorporate movement and physical exercise. 

Your loved one doesn’t have to be a professional dancer – moving to the music is enough to get their heart beating and blood pumping! Exercise releases endorphins that help ease stress and boost mood, meaning dancing is therapeutic and fun! 

Some dance therapy sessions focus on the body’s movement only, while others may include props or costumes to make it more fun and engaging for participants. 


3. A safe way to express emotions


Music therapy can give older individuals a healthy and constructive way to express and work through their emotions rather than bottling them up. 

Music can help ease stress, depression, and anxiety by releasing dopamine (a.k.a. the chemical connected to feelings of happiness and joy) in our brains. Dance can help release mental and physical tension through exercise, but listening to or making music via singing or instruments can also ease feelings of mental turmoil. 

If your loved one has trouble expressing their emotions due to personality, trauma or a medical condition, music may help them say what they cannot communicate through words. 


4. Social benefits 


Loneliness and isolation are everyday struggles for older people, but music helps bring people together. Group settings like a dance class or a choir can help your loved one feel rejuvenated by being a part of something again. 


5. Music therapy and dementia


Some therapists use music therapy to assist those living with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Sound, similar to smell, can be a great tool to help trigger memory. 

There have been many cases where, despite the onset of dementia, seniors who were musicians in their youth can still play whole pieces of music and improvise. Letting their hands remember for their brains often helps restore feelings of identity and comfort for the individual and their family. 

While music has not been scientifically proven to reverse the effects of dementia, it can help ease the anxiety and depression that those with the disease often experience. 

Learning a musical instrument has also been said to help lessen the chances of developing dementia. 


Potential risks of music therapy 


While music is a non-intrusive, low-risk therapy, there could potentially be some drawbacks that are important to note. Since music is such a powerful medium, it has the potential to evoke some painful or upsetting memories in your loved one’s life, such as the passing of a friend, parent, or spouse. 

This risk can be of particular concern if your parent or grandparent struggles with dementia and has forgotten their loved one has passed. Therefore, therapists should take extra precautions when using music therapy for seniors living with Alzheimer’s or dementia.

To mitigate the risks, ensure your loved one is as honest as possible with their therapist from the beginning to make it an enjoyable and productive experience for everyone involved. 




Music therapy for older adults is an excellent way to help a parent or grandparent explore their emotions and handle stress safely and productively. Music is a beautiful and powerful medium that can be harnessed to help us reach places where our words cannot.

Seasons Retirement Communities aims to foster an environment where residents feel safe and supported. If you want to learn more about Seasons Retirement Communities and what we can do to give your loved one the care they need, contact us today.

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