Howard University Multicultural Media Academy in partnership with the Dow Jones News Fund
Music therapy plays an important role for patients with Alzheimer's disease and other cognitive disorders.

Music Therapy Shows Promise With Alzheimer’s Disease

By Jordanne Semper-Scott

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive disease that causes memory loss for people ages 65 and older. As an individual ages, they lose the ability to communicate or interact with their caregiver or family. It is also considered the most common cause of dementia. Sixty to 80 percent of dementia cases are related to Alzheimer’s, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Researchers have yet to find a cure for Alzheimer’s. 

But, some health professionals claim that there are a few treatments that don’t involve medications for this disease. How have researchers approached Alzheimer’s disease or dementia? 

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the disease and other forms of dementia will cost America $277 billion. Between now and 2050, the cost could increase to $20.2 trillion or more, according to researchers. The cost includes providing medical aid and care for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and for funding the National Institutes of Health to continue their scientific research. There are a lot of people dying from Alzheimer’s, it is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. 

Even though the government spends large sums of money, they haven’t gotten far, according to healthcare experts. But some health experts say that there is an effective treatment. So why should the government continue to spend large amounts of money on the National Institutes of Health when there has been no progress made in the alzheimer’s scientific research? What treatments can help patients with alzheimer’s disease?

Doctors and music therapists have found that music is an effective non-medical treatment for patients with alzheimer’s disease. How can music be therapeutic for patients with alzheimer’s disease? Individualized music interventions can display positive results for individuals with alzheimer’s disease. Music is considered a way for people to express themselves when they find it hard to do so. It could also shift their mood if they feel stressed or agitated when they are in a different environment. The part of the brain that appreciates music is called the supplementary motor area. This is the only part of the brain that can react to the tunes of familiar songs.  

How does music therapy benefit patients with alzheimer’s disease or dementia? Music therapy is a method that uses music to approach patients with emotional, cognitive, and social needs. Through the music, provided by music therapists, an individual’s cognitive and communication skills are strengthened. They are also able to express their emotions towards their family or caregiver. Music therapy plays a serious and important role for patients with alzheimer disease, dementia, or cognitive disorders.  

Dr. Concetta M. Tomaino is executive director of the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function, which she helped found 40 years ago. The Institute for Music and Neurologic Function is the first dedicated institute in the United States to bring together neurologic science and music therapy. 

Tomaino also works in the field of neuroscience, neurologic function, and music therapy. She says that her position impacts so many people who are experiencing alzheimer’s disease, dementia, or cognitive disorder. She characterized her occupation as “…a mission that luckily other people are learning about.” The Alzheimer’s Association continues to communicate their research studies, findings, or information through their website to caregivers, doctors, and even neurologist scientists and music therapists like Tomaino. 

Tomaino’s occupation is one that has many difficulties: Places, for example the Midwest, have limited access to music therapy and finding funds to keep music therapy organizations open. She says she believes the government could do more than just send funds to the National Institutes of Health. The government should spend their money on music therapy organizations if they want to help Alzheimer’s patients. Although the federal budget has granted $1.8 billion to Alzheimer’s and dementia research, the grant has not been warranted.   

The Institute of Music and Neurologic Function collaborates with music companies to provide music samples for facilities that house patients with alzheimer’s disease. Non-profit organizations, such as Music and Memory, creates iPods and playlists for people with dementia, cognitive dissonance or impairments to reconnect with their family and caregivers. They also teach caregivers how to create music playlists for patients with alzheimer’s disease in order to provide a sense of safety and security for the patient. 

Dr. Alaina Davis is an assistant professor and speech language pathologist at the Howard University Department of Communication Sciences & Disorders. Her research interests are in Assessment and Treatment of Cognitive Impairments in individuals with Traumatic Brain Injury. She works with people who have multiple strokes or some form of dementia. Her position includes helping people train their memory, speech and language, and swallowing exercises. 

Dr. Davis receives new statistics on Alzheimer’s disease through the Alzheimer’s Association website. She has discovered that in 2019, about 487,000 people will develop Alzheimer’s or some forms of dementia. The African-American and Latinx population are more likely to develop this disease than the White population. Although, most White-Americans who live in the South East or South Western area do not have access to music therapy. “Music therapy is not as common as you think it is. Even though the research is positive, it is still not as common throughout the US.” She says that research is helpful. The cost is going to keep increasing because the number of people. Keeping the level of awareness ” Getting to the root of what is happening… something that is going to be helpful.”

Dr. Davis has been researching how music therapy can benefit patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Seeing the amazing results of music therapy, she has “thought about…” collaborating with music companies to provide music samples for her patients. But has “… not implemented it though.” She hopes to begin a support group for people who have neurogenetic communication disorder, multiple strokes, or dementia. She says that she wants to include the music aspect in the group. “We should do collaborations in the future… Music is a universal language. Because you feel better, music increases your quality of life.”

Music is known to have a powerful impact on Alzheimer’s patients and anybody else who is dealing with dementia. As soon as the caregiver plays the music, all of a sudden, the individual can express their emotions and recall their past memories. Music can be the bridge that helps the individual with alzheimer’s to be able to reconnect with their family. It may take researchers a long time to find a medical cure for alzheimer’s disease. But with the power of music, is can be a miracle worker. 


Alzheimer’s Association.“What Is Alzheimer’s?”Alzheimer’s Association. Par. 1-4, 5-7. Accessed 17 June 2019

National Headquarters. “Alzheimer’s Breakthrough Act.” Alzheimer’s Association. Accessed 17 June 2019

“Fiscal Year 2020 Alzheimer’s Research Funding.” Alzheimer’s Association. Alzheimer’s Impact Movement, March 2019. Accessed 18 June 2019

“What is Music Therapy?” Music Therapy. American Music Therapy Association, Silver Spring, MD. Accessed 18 June 2019

Sauer, Alissa. “5 Reasons Why Music Boosts Brain Activity.” Alzheimer’s Research/ Alzheimer’s Treatments, July 21, 2014. Accessed 18 June 2019

Glicksman, Eve. “Music as Therapy.” 17 June 2018. Accessed 25 June 2019

“Help Spread the Music.” Music and Memory. Accessed 25 June 2019

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