Brad Carlin: Therapeutic Songwriting for Persons with Dementia (PWDs) and their Family Caregivers (FCGs)

Bradley Carlin
1 min readMay 17, 2021

In compositional music therapy, the music therapist (MT) helps the client write songs, lyrics, or instrumental works that lead to a musical product, such as a written copy or recording of the song. The MT often handles the more technical parts of the process, and engages the client at an appropriate level (words, music). Goals of such work often include expressing thoughts and feelings, as well as developing decision-making skills.

Previous research has suggested that group therapeutic songwriting improves health and wellbeing indicators for depression, anxiety and quality of life. These findings apply equally well to older adults with or without dementia, and their family caregivers (FCGs). Songwriting can help persons with dementia (PWDs) improve their memory and mitigate language loss, and feel a sense of pride in what they create. It can also help their FCGs explore and express emotions, engage in processing of painful issues, and address issues of identity (especially regarding their changed relationship with their PWD).

In this talk, we review techniques, clinical applications, and the relevant literature concerning therapeutic songwriting for PWDs and FCGs. We also discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the various techniques, and cover issues in assessment and contraindications. Finally, we summarize and suggest avenues for future work in this area, which is bound to grow in importance as the population continues to age.

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Bradley Carlin

Brad is statistician and a longtime musician who contributes to several bands throughout the Minnesota area.