Evidence Summary

What is an Evidence Summary?

Key messages from scientific research that's ready to be acted on

Got It, Hide this
  • Rating:

In older people with cognitive impairment or mild or moderate dementia, active music-making therapy improves cognitive functioning by a small amount

Dorris JL, Neely S, Terhorst L, et al. Effects of music participation for mild cognitive impairment and dementia: A systematic review and meta-analysis. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2021 Sep;69(9):2659-67.

Review question

In older people who have probable cognitive (thinking) impairment or mild or moderate dementia, does active music-making therapy improve cognitive functioning and emotional well-being?


Cognitive impairment and dementia are common in older adults. Progression of cognitive impairment and dementia may be reduced by exposing the brain to challenging mental activities. Active music-making may stimulate the brain, but it is not known whether it can help improve cognitive functioning.

How the review was done

The researchers did a systematic review of studies available up to March 2021. They found 21 randomized controlled trials that included a total of 1471 people.

Key features of the studies were:

  • people were 65 years of age or older, with an average age between 69 to 88 years;
  • people had mild cognitive impairment, probable dementia, mild or moderate dementia, or mild or moderate Alzheimer disease (people with severe dementia were excluded);
  • active music-making therapies included rhythm-music and improvisation, reacting to a sound (e.g. hearing a drum) by clapping, singing, music therapy with gross and fine motor movements, playing percussion instruments, or music integrated with exercise;
  • active music-making therapies were delivered by professionals;
  • active music-making therapy sessions were 30 minutes to 2 hours long, 1 to 5 times per week for 4 to 40 weeks; and
  • active music-making therapy was compared with usual care, medications, health education, listening to music, gymnastics, non-musical cognitive tasks or training, walking exercises, dance, self-directed activities, reading, yoga, or painting.

What the researchers found

Compared with control, active music-making therapy:

  • improved global cognition (overall thinking) by a small amount; and
  • did not clearly affect quality of life, mood, depression, or anxiety.


In older people with probable cognitive impairment or mild or moderate dementia, active music-making therapy improves cognitive functioning by a small amount.

Effect of active music-making therapy vs control in older people with cognitive impairment or dementia*


Number of studies (number of patients)

Effect of active music-making therapy

Cognitive functioning (overall thinking)

9 studies (495 patients)

Active music-making therapy improved global cognition by a small amount.

*Only the outcome that was clearly affected by active music-making therapy is reported here.

Related Topics


Cognitive function
Mental processes, including thinking, learning and remembering.
Cognitive impairment
Trouble remembering, learning new things, concentrating, or making decisions that affect everyday life.
Randomized controlled trials
Studies where people are assigned to one of the treatments purely by chance.
Systematic review
A comprehensive evaluation of the available research evidence on a particular topic.

Related Evidence Summaries

Related Web Resources

  • Alzheimer's Disease: Do Ginkgo products help?

    Informed Health Online
    Gingko supplements (240 mg per day) may help reduce symptoms of Alzheimer's disease and enable you to perform daily tasks better. Be aware that gingko could interact with other medications, so talk to your doctor before taking any supplements.
  • Worried about dementia? Here are 5 ways to cut your risk

    Dementia affects millions of people around the world, and there is no current treatment. There are a few ways to lower your risk. Eat a well-balanced diet, exercise, stay social, and limit alcohol and smoking.
  • Dementia in long-term care

    Canadian Institute for Health Information
    Older adults with dementia may need to move into long-term care homes if they can no longer stay at home. These people have higher risk of getting physically restrained or given antipsychotic medication. Changes to policy and education have made these things happen less often.
DISCLAIMER These summaries are provided for informational purposes only. They are not a substitute for advice from your own health care professional. The summaries may be reproduced for not-for-profit educational purposes only. Any other uses must be approved by the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal (info@mcmasteroptimalaging.org).

Register for free access to all Professional content

Want the latest in aging research? Sign up for our email alerts.

Support for the Portal is largely provided by the Labarge Optimal Aging Initiative. AGE-WELL is a contributing partner. Help us to continue to provide direct and easy access to evidence-based information on health and social conditions to help you stay healthy, active and engaged as you grow older. Donate Today.

© 2012 - 2020 McMaster University | 1280 Main Street West | Hamilton, Ontario L8S4L8 | +1 905-525-9140 | Terms Of Use