Music, Emotion, and Dementia: Insight From Neuroscientific and Clinical Research


  • Teppo Särkämö PhD, MA
  • Sari Laitinen LicPhil, MA
  • Mari Tervaniemi PhD, MA
  • Ava Nummien PhD, MA
  • Merja Kurki PhD, MA
  • Pekka Rantanen PhD, MD, eMBA



Music has an important meaning in the lives of many elderly persons. Its capacity to evoke emotions and influence mood and arousal is often relatively well preserved also in dementia. Neuroscientific and clinical research has increased our understanding about the mechanisms underlying music enjoyment and its therapeutic effects. This article reviews previous studies that address the neural basis of music cognition and emotion. We also introduce the effects of varying music interventions on emotional and cognitive functioning in dementia. Findings suggest that both traditional music therapy and caregiver-implemented music activities may have the capacity to reduce emotional and behavioral disturbances in dementia, although firm conclusions about the long- term effects of music still remain elusive. The rapid growth of dementia warrants study in the rehabilitative effects of everyday musical leisure activities or hobbies, such as music listening and singing, on well-being in dementia, especially in its early stages.

Author Biographies

Teppo Särkämö, PhD, MA

Teppo Särkämö, PhD, MA,is a licenced psychologist and postdoctoral researcher at the Cognitive Brain Research Unit, Institute of Behavioural Sciences, University of Helsinki and at the Finnish Centre of Excellence in Interdisciplinary Music Research, University of Jyväskylä,Finland.

Sari Laitinen, LicPhil, MA

Sari Laitinen, LicPhil, MA, is a licenced music therapist and physical therapist currently working in a research project at the Miina Sillanpää Foundation in Helsinki, Finland.

Mari Tervaniemi, PhD, MA

Mari Tervaniemi, PhD, MA, is a professor and a senior lecturer in psychology at the Universities of Jyväskylä and Helsinki and the co-director of the Finnish Centre of Excellence in Interdisciplinary Music Research,UniversityofJyväskylä,Finland.

Ava Nummien, PhD, MA

Ava Numminen, PhD, MA, is a singing teacher and licenced psychologist currently working at the Unit of Educational Psychology, Department of Teacher Education, University of Helsinki, Finland.

Merja Kurki, PhD, MA

Merja Kurki, PhD, MA, is a psychologist and researcher working as the Head of Research and Development at the Miina Sillanpää Foundation in Helsinki, Finland.

Pekka Rantanen, PhD, MD, eMBA

Pekka Rantanen, PhD, MD, eMBA, is a physiatrist with special competence in musician’s medicine. He is the head physician of the Geriatric Centre in Espoo Hospital, Finland.




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