Writing Songs May Help Those With Dementia to Learn—and Remember

By Lola Augustine Brown


There’s a commonly held belief, backed by research, that once a person has dementia, his or her capacity to learn new things disappears. However, promising new research out of the University of Melbourne, Australia, has shown that when those with early and mid-stage dementia are encouraged to dream up lyrics to music, they remember those lyrics a week later.

Every week, eight adults with dementia were brought together for songwriting sessions, and at the end of 10 sessions, the group recorded a CD. Staff at the dementia care centre reported that besides the pleasure that participants got from creating music, they became more talkative and engaged outside of the sessions.

Using music to engage dementia patients isn’t new, but participants’ ability to recall their own lyrics from one week to the next makes these results especially exciting.

Led by researcher Felicity Baker, a University of Melbourne professor and co-director of the National Music Therapy Research Unit, the project was deemed promising enough to merit a $24,000 grant that will see Baker extend her work in Melbourne and do parallel research in Germany to determine whether these results can be seen across cultures. 

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