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Music and dementiarehabilitation

Why song and music

Why focus on the use of song and music?

Vita is angry and resists all types of interaction. When the caregiver wants to help her to the toilet, she spits, scratches and hits. Vita has a dementia disease and lives in a memory care unit in a nursing home. 

How can interaction with persons like Vita be facilitated with respect and dignity? - A person-oriented approach where caregivers use song and music can help give Vita a feeling of being heard, recognized and understood, while meeting her psychosocial needs.

Research behind the project

(See references)

It has been shown that human communication has as its source a basic communicative musicality, and that this communicative musicality is accessible even for people with severe dementia (Holck 2002; Malloch 1999; Trevarthen 1999).

Research shows that music can contribute to improved quality of life and better social skills, as well as reducing agitated behaviour, anxiety and depression for persons with dementia, when used in different types of musical activities, as music therapy or during care situations (Ridder 2012).

  • Through music, a contact is established that is not based on verbal communication (Ottesen 2014; Ottesen & Jacobsen 2016).
  • Positive memories and emotional experiences can be evoked by using specific songs or pieces of music (Ridder 2005 a, b).
  • Music therapy, as well as the use of song and music, provides many opportunities to work purposefully with regulation and stimulation; for example through the use of voice, body posture, movement and breathing. (Ridder  2012; Wigram et al. 2002).
  • Music and song can create a basis for a sense of community and participation without demands (Ottesen & Jacobsen 2016)
  • The ambiguity of music can either replace or compensate for lack of verbal ability (Ottesen 2016; Ridder 2014).
  • Focused use of song and music can be a way to compensate for poor concentration, attention, and lack of ability to regulate level of arousal (Ottesen 2014; Ottesen & Ridder 2012; Ridder 2005b; Ridder 2014).
  • Music therapy can reduce agitated behaviour for persons with dementia, and it has a beneficial effect on mood and social skills. This beneficial effect is even greater when caregivers and family are actively involved in selecting music and participating in music activities (Wall & Duffy 2010).

The project focuses on a rehabilitation strategy where song and music is practiced and applied as a communicative intervention, based on the belief that this can help make it possible to facilitate the interaction with persons like Vita with dignity and respect.

References on the use of song and music in dementia care


Holck, U. (2002). 'Kommunikalsk'samspil i musikterapi: kvalitative videoanalyser af musikalske og gestiske interaktioner med børn med betydelige funktionsnedsættelser, herunder børn med autisme. Doctoral dissertation. Aalborg: Institut for Kommunikation. Det Humanistiske Fakultet Aalborg Universitet.

Malloch, S. (1999). Mothers and infants and communicative musicality. Musicæ Scientiæ, special issue 1999-2000, 29-54

Ottesen, Aa.M. (2014). Anvendelse af musikterapi og Dementia Care Mapping i en læringsmodel til udvikling af musiske og interpersonelle kompetencer hos omsorgsgivere til personer med demens. Et casestudie med en etnografisk tilgang. (Ph.d.-afhandling, Forskerprogrammet i musikterapi, Aalborg Universitet).

Ottesen, Aa.M. (2016). At mødes gennem musikken. Nærvær og kommunikation med personer med demens. I: Beck, A.M, Højlund, B. & Thomasen, L. S. (red). Svækkede gamle menneskers hverdagsliv. København: Dansk Gerontologisk Selskab.

Ottesen, Aa. M. & Jacobsen A.F. (2016). Musikterapi som læringsrum for professionelle omsorgsgivere. I: Stige, B. & Ridder, H.M.O. Musikkterapi og eldrehelse. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget.

Ottesen, Aa. M. & Ridder, H.M. (2012). Vitalitetsformer og spejlneuroner – anvendt i læringsmodel for professionelle omsorgsgivere. Tidsskriftet Dansk Musikterapi 9 (2), p. 3 – 13.

Ridder, H.M. O., 2005a. Musik & Demens. Musikaktiviteter og musikterapi med demensramte. Århus: Forlaget KLIM.

Ridder, H.M.O, 2005b. Musikbiografi og musikreminiscens som led i musikterapeutisk behandling af personer med frontotemporal demens. Musikterapi i Psykiatrien, Årsskrift 4.

Ridder, H. M. O. (2012). Forskning i musikterapi-personer med demens. Dansk Musikterapi, 9(1), 3-12.

Ridder, H.M.O. (2014). Musikterapi med personer med demens. I: Bonde, L. O. (red). Musikterapi: Teori-Uddannelse-Praksis-Forskning: En håndbog om musikterapi i Danmark. Århus: Forlaget KLIM. 

Trevarthen, C. (1999). Musicality and the intrinsic motive pulse: evidence from human psychobiology and infant communication. Musicæ Scientiæ, special issue 1999-2000, 155-199.

Wall, M., & Duffy, A. (2010). The effects of music therapy for older people with dementia. British Journal of Nursing, 19(2), 108-113.

Wigram, T., Pedersen, I.N., & Bonde, L.O. (2002). A comprehensive guide to musictherapy. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Music and Dementia Rehabilitation
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