For one man, his mother’s dementia was so distressing he decided to stop visiting her at the care home she was staying in.

Yet only a short time later he was seeing her regularly. What made the difference? Personalized music.

It’s quite a story. . .

When the first melody on her playlist kicks off, his mother opens her eyes, becomes alert and starts to sing. Listening together, the mother he used to know is back again.

The UK Government is so impressed with the consistency of these experiences, they want to roll out personal playlists for all dementia patients in the National Health Service.

Reduces the Need for Drugs by 60 Percent

British Health Secretary Matt Hancock seems to be unique among people who have walked in his shoes.

Sounding more like someone who works in the field of natural health than a Government minister, he said, “I want to combat over-medicalization and dishing out pills when it’s not in the best interests of the patient.

“There is increasing evidence suggesting music can bring calm to people with dementia by reducing agitation and supporting those affected to cope better with symptoms.”

A UK charity called Playlist for Life, which creates personal playlists for dementia patients, claims their approach achieved a 60% reduction in the use of psychotropic medication at one care facility.

According to Grace Meadows, who works as a music therapist, “Music can be a lifeline for people living with dementia. It facilitates shared, quality musical moments with friends, family and carers. Music for people living with dementia isn’t a nicety, it’s a necessity.”

Invokes Autobiographical Memories

In recent years music interventions have grown in popularity. That’s because memory for music can remain intact for Alzheimer’s patients, even among those experiencing rapid cognitive decline.

Brain networks involved in musical memory cover a broad area, which may enable them to avoid damage until the later stages of the disease, the researchers conjecture. This was demonstrated in a study where music listening areas showed less pathology in brain scans.

Earlier this year, a research group from the University of Toronto carried out a review on music intervention approaches tried out for people with Alzheimer’s over the previous ten years.

The techniques vary. Some involve music playing in the background. In others, a therapist chooses the music. Personal playlists are the third main option. The researchers concluded that “individualized music regimens provided the best outcomes for the patient.”

While listening to music they enjoy, patients experience positive effects for both cognition and behavior.

Researchers see improvements in orientation, language and memory as well as in anxiety and depression. Music known and loved by the patient is also more likely to stimulate autobiographical memories.

A better recollection of experiences from an individual’s life raises self-awareness, improves overall cognitive function and reduces neuropsychiatric symptoms.

Benefits Last for Hours

In an interview, the late Oliver Sacks, the distinguished neurologist and author, once spoke about people with dementia in the care homes he worked in.

“Some of them are confused, some are agitated, some are lethargic, some have almost lost language, but all of them without exception respond to music, especially to…songs they’ve once known.

“It’s most amazing to see people who are ‘out of it’ suddenly respond. This sort of lucidity and pleasure can last for hours afterwards.”

Kim Martinson from Morseland Nursing Home, Wisconsin, can’t praise personalized playlists enough:

“It has been absolutely amazing to see someone’s face light up when they hear their own personalized music.

“We have seen a decrease in adverse resident behaviors, less wandering, more social interaction and the residents are more upbeat and happy after listening to their music. Through the power of music, certain adverse behaviors have been reduced without using medication.”

Established in 2010, Music and Memory is a non-profit organization based in New York that brings music to nursing homes and other care facilities.

They’ve now set up personalized playlists for patients in 4,800 sites across the US and Canada. Details are available at