I remember one year, singing Christmas carols at the dementia ward of a senior care facility in my town.  As we were -Harking the Harold Angels- I looked out through the room and saw all eyes fixed on us and unbelievably all mouths singing along. These seniors, who’d forgotten their homes, their own names, their children’s faces, were singing EVERY WORD to EVERY SONG.  What is it about music that even those with severe memory problems can’t forget it?

If you are around special needs individuals in any capacity, you probably notice how much music plays a large role in their lives- Disney tunes in the car, headphones playing classical music as they navigate a crowd, even Grandma with dementia has a favorite tune from her childhood you hear her humming.

Music can be a powerful tool for intellectually challenged individuals. Let’s look at 5.


First, music can have a positive impact on mood. It has been shown to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, and can even improve overall well-being. This is because music can stimulate the release of endorphins, which are chemicals in the brain that are associated with feelings of pleasure and happiness. Some rhythms can energize and others can calm. Music can allow us to retreat from our outer circumstances and be enveloped in the mood it is creating.


In terms of communication, music can be used as a form of nonverbal communication. For individuals with intellectual challenges, who may have difficulty expressing themselves verbally, music can be a way for them to communicate their emotions and feelings. It is also useful in building connections with others when sharing musical interests. It can build a sense of belonging, which is often difficult for those with intellectual challenges to achieve in other ways.


Music can be a valuable tool for self-expression. Through singing, playing an instrument, or even just listening to music, individuals with intellectual challenges can express themselves in ways that may be difficult to do verbally. Individuals can connect to the emotion in the music and reflect it back or “practice” emotions which they may have difficulty accessing alone.


Music can improve memory recall, especially in older adults with intellectual challenges. This is because music can help to organize and structure information, making it easier to remember. Music can help to recall a favorite event, a time of year, and sometimes a person. If your special needs loved one has trouble remembering a task, try putting it to music. 


Finally, music can be used as a tool for movement and physical therapy. The rhythms and beats of music can help to improve coordination, balance, circulation, and overall motor skills.  Many special needs people find an outlet for self-expression and communication through dance. Choreography to music is a favorite hobby for many intellectually challenged individuals, giving them a creative outlet and sense of accomplishment.

Overall, music can be a valuable tool for individuals with intellectual challenges in many areas of their lives- whether it’s improving mood, facilitating communication, promoting self-expression, boosting memory, or enhancing movement.