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Musical Notes with Melissa Pate

Music Therapy—Does It Really Make a Difference?

Melissa PateApproximately 5 million people live with Alzheimer’s or some form of dementia. By the year 2050, that number is expected to double. In a changing and sometimes restrictive healthcare system, music therapists have to answer some important questions in order to not get lost in the process. Does music therapy have to be done by a board-certified music therapist? What about music-listening programs, which are growing more popular? That’s the same thing, right?

In a recent study (cited below), researchers implemented an assessment-based, small group music therapy program for individuals with Alzheimer’s living in an assisted living or had in-home care. The music therapists implemented singing, movement, improvisation, and drumming interventions with the goals of “increasing interactions among clients, increasing appropriate and relevant communication, decreasing anxiety and perseveration, and increasing/improving motor responses.” Over the course of several months, data showed significant improvement in musical expression as well as expressive language and an increase in positive social interactions with others.


So, what’s the music therapy difference? Listening to music may bring back a memory, but what do you do with that? A song may spark movement, but how do you use that to create a moment of interaction for a resident who may be struggling? The difference with music therapy is knowing how to use the music to achieve individualized goals. It’s knowing how to use music as a tool and intervention, not just something for listening. For more questions about music therapy, please contact Melissa Pate at


Laurie A Keough, Betsey King, Theresa Lemmerman, Assessment-Based Small-Group Music Therapy Programming for Individuals with Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease: A Multi-Year Clinical Project, Music Therapy Perspectives, Volume 35, Issue 2, October 2017, Pages 182–189,