Music Therapy and Dementia: The Importance of Dignity

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Image of music therapist Amanda Marcum

Dementia is a symptom rather than a cause. Therefore, it may look different in every person. Experiencing dementia can be bothersome or even terrifying to the individual. Older adults often feel as though they are excluded from various parts of society, but this is particularly amplified among those living with dementia. As an individual with dementia loses skills and abilities, society often resorts to treating them like children, imposing a label that couldn’t be further from the true identity of the individual before experiencing dementia. Depression is one of the primary concerns that individuals with dementia experience. Dignity can be defined as “the state of being worthy of quality and respect,” and can easily fall to the wayside in dementia care when it is not prioritized. This is particularly true when it comes to funding, staffing, and space for long-term care. Dementia affects people all around the world, especially as life expectancy increases due to medical advances.

Research suggests that by using a person-centered approach to care, with a focus on the dignity of the individual, people may experience a better overall quality of life. Music therapists have a unique avenue to foster dignity, as they often have more time with a client, and can engage in musical and non-musical interactions to validate the individual. Music also has a way of validating the identity of an individual. Music therapists can encourage this identity by offering music interventions with many opportunities for success. Other ways music therapy can provide opportunities to increase client sense of dignity include providing a sense of agency, incorporating clients in decisions involving their care, and reaching creative goals and opportunities for music-based legacy projects.

These ideals are based on a humanistic approach to music therapy based on psychological research derived from Carl Rogers. Humanistic music therapy is based on similar ideals including person-centered care and applies these principles to our practice to include focusing on the client, the music, the relationship, and the therapeutic process (Wheeler & Abrahms, 2015).

Participants will engage in one experiential intervention designed to demonstrate different levels of musical success consisting of body-percussion. We will also conduct an experiential intervention where we utilize a traditional adult intervention, active instrument playing to familiar music, and find ways to make small adjustments to allow for more dignity within the experience.

Learner Objectives

Consider the following in the treatment decision-making process: Values, preferences, and interests of the clients, families, and caregivers

Provide individualized music therapy experiences to address the client’s: adjustment to life changes or temporary or permanent changes in ability

Recognize how the following theoretical frameworks inform music therapy practice: humanistic


Amanda (she/her) is a music therapist based around Phoenix, Arizona. She works with older adults with dementia and loves learning from their wisdom.