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Building a Music Playlist for Dementia Sufferers

Updated: Apr 17

How Music For Dementia Sufferers Can Be Used as a Method for Sensory Awareness

In this guide, we share some resources and ideas about how music and music therapy can be used for seniors suffering from dementia, and how music can help families to enhance their dementia care.

Building a Music Playlist for Dementia Sufferers

Music has always had the power to light up our lives. Whether you sing or play a musical instrument, or are just a listener, music has the power to transport us to a different place.

Different songs and types of music can bring back memories and evoke emotions by triggering endorphins in the brain.

But forget the science for a moment and just think about the time you danced, sang or just plain mumbled along to your favourite songs. It was probably enjoyable and brought a strong emotional response.

A music playlist for dementia sufferers can be used to help them and you as a family reconnect in a way that cannot be achieved verbally.

The Science of Music for Dementia

Research has been undertaken and has shown that involving dementia sufferers in music, whether that be listening, singing, playing an instrument, or even being involved in a group musical environment can provide positive effects.

In 2016, a study using the concept of a  Musical Choir which was researched and written by Bill Ahessy showed the positive effects music had when introduced into the daily routines of the elderly.

Some of the benefits that were seen included:

  • Decrease in symptoms of depression

  • Improvement in general mood

  • Lower blood pressure

  • More regulated respiratory rate

There have been other studies undertaken to look at how music therapy can aid dementia sufferers, and these have found that both self-esteem and belonging to a group have shown improvements in general energy levels, increased appetite, regular sleeping patterns, and most importantly cognitive function (thinking, feeling, sensory perception, and intuition)

Not everybody may have the physical capability to join a choir, but music is a tool that can be used by families of dementia sufferers.

music and dementia

Building your First Music Playlist

The starting point to building a playlist for a dementia sufferer is to take into account their favourite types of music and any particular music styles and artists you know they have liked in the past.

Another tip is to build a musical playlist which is recorded by your family members. 

Get each of your family members who have a relationship with the person who is suffering from dementia to record themselves singing. This can help trigger responses by hearing a loved one's voice in a different format rather than just monotone speech.

Another type of list is a way-back list. Try to find music from the generation when your family member was in the 18-30 age range. So for example, if somebody is 70 years of age today in 2024 then they would have been 25 years of age in 1979.

Building a 70’s and 80’s playlist can take them back to that prime time of their life and evoke positive memories and emotions.

A music playlist does not just need to focus on the audio element of music. It can also include visual elements. As an example, building a YouTube playlist which can be played on a TV via an internet connection is another way of using a combination of audio/visual elements.

Dementia care using music

Five Other Ideas for Building a Music Playlist for Dementia Sufferers

  1. Musical film scores

  2. Musical intros from favourite TV shows

  3. Calming sounds like rainfall, distant thunder, crackling fireplaces or lapping ocean waves

  4. Musical instrument sounds (instrumentals) without an accompanying vocal

  5. Playing some of the world's most common hymns

Be creative with this and try and come up with your own ideas.

National Playlist Day 2024

If you are looking for inspiration in building a playlist or want to get involved in an event that brings dementia sufferers and their families together, then National Playlist Day could be an event you would like to research.

The idea of the event which is organised by the Scottish charity Playlist For Life, is to use the power of music to support people and families that have been affected by dementia.

This year's event takes place on 20th September 2024.

It is calculated that there are nearly 1 million dementia sufferers across the UK, and this initiative is aimed at reaching as many of these people as possible and effecting positive change in their lives.

Selection of Music for Dementia Playlists

For those looking for some ready-made playlists then the team at Playlist For Life have put together some great free resources including several downloadable dementia music playlists

There are many music genres here from many different decades.

Music for Dementia FAQs

Q1: What are the real benefits of listening to music for dementia sufferers?

A1: People using music as a means of therapy have been shown to show improvement in cognitive functions, improved mood and awareness of surroundings, decreased anxiety and depression, and reduction in stress levels.

Q2: How might dementia sufferers react to music therapy?

A2: People using music therapy have been shown in studies to improve physical movement, facial and emotional expressions, being able to sing, and the ability to interact socially.

Q3: What type of musical activities can a dementia sufferer benefit from?

A3: Attending musical concerts is one activity, while also visiting church and listening to hymns can prove beneficial. If possible, playing a simple musical instrument like a harmonica, maracas, a tambourine or even a bongo is possible for people diagnosed with early-stage dementia.

Q4. What musical activities/therapy can be beneficial for people with late-stage dementia?

A4. The best tool for a person with late-stage dementia is likely to be a personal playlist of favourite songs.

music therapy dementia



1st Focus Care aims to bring seniors, the elderly, and their families, useful information to support them in later life and to help them live as active a lifestyle as possible.

As an at-home care provider for the elderly in Edinburgh, 1st Focus Care is available to act as a care provider and support you with help in basic daily living, including acting as a friendly ear to talk to, as well as providing meal preparation, shopping, medication administration and other needs.

Feel free to give us a call to find out if we are a good fit for your care needs.



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