Why I Decided to Become a Music Therapist: Music Therapy and Dementia

My first exposure to music therapy was in a day program for individuals with dementia. I had never imagined that I would someday become a music therapist; I thought I would play flute in a world-class symphony orchestra, but once I witnessed the power of music therapy, there was no going back.

Durin my first semester at Berklee College Music, I spent long hours in the practice rooms rehearsing flute and perfecting my technique. I loved performing, but I started to feel a calling to become a helper and to do something thatt involved more daily interaction with people. After meeting a music therapis by chance, I was invited to observe a group music therapy session in a day program for older adults witht dementia. I arrived to the day program during their lunch hour, and I felt sad to see how much support the once vibrant and capable participants needed. They required assistance with feeding, mobility, and all basic activities of daily living (ADLs). Some had lost all ability to verbally communicate or ambulate independently.

The music therapist and day program staff helped the participants over to an area with comfortable seating arranged in a semi-circle, and once everyone was in place, the magic began: people who could no longer walk were dancing, people who could no longer speak were joyfully singing songs of their youth. Bright smiles and laughter lit up dim, expressionless faces. In that moment I felt a renewed clarity of purpose and knew my fate was to recreate that moment.

After the program, I signed up to volunteer with the music therapist who worked full-time in the assisted living in the same building, then I went back to Berklee and applied to the music therapy program.

While volunteering, I observed music therapy groups and individual sessions on both the high-functioning and low-functioning dementia units. My favorite group was the songwriting group on the high-functioning unit, where the music therapist used humor, joy, structure, and acceptance to support residents in confronting the harsh realities of dementia, such as becoming increasingly forgetful and dependent upon others for basic ADLs (activities of daily living).

Music makes everything easier. I say it all the time, but it’s true: exercise, eliciting verbal phrases, memory recall, interacting with others positively, confronting difficult and painful emotions . . . the list goes on. There are a million and one ways people with dementia can benefit from music therapy, and the concept seems so obvious for me, initially it didn’t occur to me to write a blog post about it! Music therapy should be a staple in every nursing home and assisted living. Indeed, there are not enough music therapists to go around: music therapists can also serve as consultants in developing supportive music programs, or train caregivers in the safe integration of music into daily support tasks. (Care must be taken to reduce the risk of harm when providng music interventions).

Music therapy can:

Please contact me for more information about the benefits of music therapy for individuals with dementia.



1 thought on “Why I Decided to Become a Music Therapist: Music Therapy and Dementia”

  1. Thank you for these, Alysha. When I read your blog to my wifey, she felt she didn’t meet the criteria. But, when I explained it could prevent further decline, she said she would think about it… and the costs.

    I explained how I see her memory and function declining in recognizing and remembering things that need done… specifically, letting more and more perishable items on the counter… over the past three months. She also struggles a lot to understand and some days cannot comprehend the differences between the hands on analog watches or clocks. She was writing more incorrect checks; so now, she lets me write out the amount for her bills and she signs them; then, I mail them; because, she’s mail a few to the wrong places… as well as the incorrect amounts. She’s even begun taking my clothes over these past few months; then, comes to me saying, “Is this yours (sometimes while wearing them,) it was in my closet, drawer, etc. but, I don’t remember it? Is it yours?” Sometimes, they are things I had told her I couldn’t find, for weeks. (We’ve turned that one into a joke… “Stop stealing my clothes or pretty soon I’ll be running around naked and I’ll just have to tell people… ‘I’m sorry; but, my wife steals my clothes!’” 🤣 That’s another reason for installing more outlets in the basement. There’s the Klean kerosene heater but, she won’t use it and I don’t want her going downstairs and sitting in the cold and dampness and getting sick, if I am not at home… if she and Poppy want to hangout down in the “cool hang” space. 😁 The cabinet type heater in my office, is the one she had upstairs in years past; but, she would pile things on it and around it that could have started a fire. After six months of trying to alter that behavior, I told her I could not handle worrying I would come home to losing ANOTHER family to a house fire… and removed the heater from the office/sitting room, upstairs. I asked her to just turn up the regular electric heat in that room. It made me feel like a bitch; but, I would not be able to recover if I came home to losing another family that way! And it hurts both of us; because we both know she doesn’t mean to do these things that trigger my old emotional baggage. At least she doesn’t cook, except coffee and making toast! So, there’s one less worry! 🙏🏼👍🏼 She also cannot comprehend phone conversations or messages and was doing/is doing that with more conversations… but, no one knows… including me, until she asks or tries to clarify things she misheard or it turns out she misinterprets. Sometimes things as simple as misinterpreting her doctor appointment call reminders are for me, until I remind her all of my medical stuff is through VA clinics or allergy shot reminders for me only come to my cell phone… so ones that go to the house phone are always for her. So, these are all things I will be sharing with Dr Lichtenstein on her/our call, later this month. She always asks me to be on the more confusing calls and doctor visits, with her. So, I know she knows her cognition is fading. A lot of times, it is after 3pm… which I know is referred to as Sundowners. I think her not eating or not eating well, if I do not stop and ensure she does… also comes into play. But, even if I prep meals, leftovers, etc… she would rather just pop toast into the same toaster oven she could pop a meal or leftover I put in the fridge clearly labeled and she’ll claim to not see things, while looking right at them. And, I know those are dementia type issues.

    Anyway, I think you get the drift of what we are going through; but, I take comfort in that God brought her to me to love and help her through it; because I thought it was so very sad when she told me about a year into our friendship,”You’re the first person, I’ve ever felt I could just be my real self with.” That was just five years ago! Maybe what’s happening is in part the brain short-circuiting from not being able to just be free to just BE… for 70+years! And I know I don’t make it easy with my OCD, though I am still working on letting go of more things in that regard. It’s difficult to let go of the ones that keep me from possibly dying from a mere staph infection though; because of the IGG3 deficiency. I just try to do more myself and more when she runs errands…so as to not have her feel guilty or like she doesn’t or can’t “do things right.” She does understand the reasons behind them; but, she and I were not together when my former coworkers thought I was dying back in 2013 and everything it took to take back my life from the decade+ of severe overmedication by VA clinicians… and that I was literally told I was going to have to live in a bubble, in 2014, just before she and I met.

    Some days I wonder why God has so much faith in my abilities or capabilities… and I know I should not question… what is not for me to understand. And then, I am reminded about strength of great mountains… like my namesake. A literal sign appears from time-to-time… “Strength… you were given this life; because, you were strong enough to live it.” I don’t believe I am the tower of strength other seem to see when they see or talk with me. I am more like the person on my knees… like the Kneeling At The Foot Of The Cross picture in our basement. One soul… following merely a solitary path of aiding individuals along the path of life via my path of discernment, prayer, and supplication… whereas my spiritual influences of Mother Teresa and Gandhi were more public and global along theirs. I have heard Mother Teresa lead an internal struggle of feeling spiritual and emotional torment throughout her life, during these past two years. Is it too odd… I find learning that brings some comfort to my soul?

    Thank you again, for these two articles… and just for BEing the wonderful person you are created to BE❣️💝🎁🙏🏼

    Grateful For You,

    Rainier Daze

    Sent from my iPhone



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