Seven capacities of music that underpin its therapeutic value in dementia care

Olivia Brancatisano, William Forde Thompson

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterResearchpeer-review


Music has been used for health and well- being throughout history and across cultures (Altemüller, Finger, & Boller, 2015). The ancient Greeks employed music to rouse the healthy and heal the sick (Meymandi, 2009), reflecting Plato’s famous declaration that music is medicine to the soul (Gfeller, 2005). In contemporary times, there is still widespread agreement that music can have beneficial effects, both physically and psychologically. Engaging with music is a catalyst for brain plasticity (Wan & Schlaug, 2010). It is an en-joyable and effortless way to stimulate an aging brain and develop neural connections. Thus, music may be considered cognitively enriching, keeping the brain active and responsive to the environment. Such benefits may help to rebuild deteriorated neural networks and motivate cognitive and behav-ioral function in people with dementia.
There is currently no comprehensive model of how music can be used to ameliorate neurological impairment in cognitive, psychosocial, motor and behavioral function. In the past two decades, however, researchers have made considerable progress in understanding the mechanisms underlying the link between music and health (Fujioka et al., 2018; Rickard & McFerran, 2012; Thaut & Hoemberg, 2014). In particular, distinct attributes of music may be linked to specific psychological and physical outcomes (MacDonald, Kreutz, & Mitchell, 2012, pp. 4– 6). Drawing from this key insight, Thompson and Schlaug (2015) identified seven capacities of music that seem to be valuable in achieving therapeutic benefits for neurological conditions, as follows: music is engaging, emotional, physical, personal, social, and persuasive, and it affords synchronization. For example, targeted treatments for neurological conditions such as rhythmic auditory stimulation for Parkinson’s disease capitalize on the physical capacity of music to elicit motor activity that is syn-chronous with a rhythm (Thompson & Schlaug, 2015). Understanding how distinct attributes of music interact with cognitive, psychosocial, behavioral, and motor functions may lead to the development of a comprehensive model of the therapeutic benefits of music for neurological impairment.
In this chapter, we outline the Therapeutic Music Capacities Model (TMCM) and explain how each music capacity identified in this model can have therapeutic benefits for individuals with dementia. These capacities en-able music to be used in targeted ways across a lifespan to promote health and well- being and can offset the negative consequences of age- related decline.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMusic and dementia: From Cognition to Therapy
EditorsAmee Baird, Sandra Garrido, Jeanette Tamplin
Place of PublicationNew York
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Print)9780190075934
Publication statusPublished - 2020
Externally publishedYes


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