Musik und Demenz – Report on Symposium in Germany

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Hamburg was the host for the third edition of the “Musik und Demenz Fachtagung” (Music and Dementia Symposium) in Germany. Not only was this event rich in presentations and workshops from around the country (and a few international colleagues), it also featured the kick-off of the National Initiative “Musik und Demenz”.

This unprecedented initiative brings together the German Music Therapy Society (Deutsche Musiktherapeutische Gesellschaft – DMtG e.V.), the German Music Council (Deutschen Musikrat – DMR e.V. als Dachverband – gemäß Wiesbadener Erklärung „Musizieren 50+“) and the German Society for Music Geragogy (Deutschen Gesellschaft für Musikgeragogik – DGfMG e.V.).

My name is Samuel Gracida, MA, MT. I am the Chair of Communications and Outreach for the IAMM. I am also a music therapist working in the area of elderly care in Germany, so this event was of particular interest to me. Read on to learn about how I experienced this event!


A central part of this event were the four keynote speakers that enthralled all attendees with their fascinating presentations. These four speakers were:

Prof. Dr. sc. mus. Jan Sonntag – Dipl.-Musiktherapeut, Department Kunst, Kultur und Gesellschaft, MSH Medical School Hamburg

Prof. Artur C. Jaschke, PhD. – Department Clinical Neuropsychology, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Department Music Therapy, ArtEZ University of the Arts, Enschede

Prof. Dr. phil. Thomas Wosch – Musiktherapeut, Hochschule für Angewandte Wissenschaften Würzburg-Schweinfurt, Fakultät Angewandte Sozialwissenschaften

Prof. Dr. phil. Dorothea Muthesius – Musiktherapeutin, (DMtG) u. Soziologin, Masterstudiengang Musiktherapie, Universität der Künste Berlin

Prof. Dr. sc. mus. Jan Sonntag

Prof. Sonntag presented on the topic of “Resonance und Encounter.” He explored the concept of “Resonance” as a basic concept for music-based activities for people with dementia. He elucidated the fact that resonance is not merely a doubling or echo of the initial action, but an answer in the structure of the “one being resonated.”

Since dementia is a “muting” of the world, this concept and the potential of music-based interventions is made evident through this concept.

Prof. Artur C. Jaschke, PhD.

Afterwards, Prof. Jaschke took a deep-dive into the brain and explained to us the potential of music as a diagnostic and treatment tool for dementia. His fascinating presentation allowed us to visualize the ways in which the different types of dementia affect the brain and how music can make a difference.

Indeed, his team in the Netherlands has conducted very interesting studies that can further inform our work with this population. One small taste of what Prof. Jaschke showed us is how in the act of improvisation the same areas of the brain activate similarly for both professional musicians and nonmusicians. At the same time, the type of improvisation (with rules as opposed to completely free for example) also makes a difference. He related all the studies from his team to how we can also practically engage with people with dementia. This was useful for the very interdisciplinary team gathered at the symposium

Prof. Dr. phil. Thomas Wosch

Prof. Wosch has a long career in conducting research and training for music therapy in the context of dementia. He shared with us the latest research in this area and some of the current ongoing studies in music therapy in Germany. He also explained what the needs for further research are in this work

To the surprise and skepticism of several in the audience, Prof. Wosch shared a study which opens the question for the uses of recreational group singing led by volunteers as opposed to group music therapy led by trained professionals. Prof. Wosch gave the multi-disciplinary audience of the conference a lot to think about.

Prof. Dr. phil. Dorothea Muthesius

Prof. Muthesius was the last keynote speaker of the event and challenged us to think about the differences, similarities, overlaps, and limits of the three main areas represented in the event: music therapy, music geragogy, and (Art/Performative) music. She also used the EBQ model from Karen Schumacher to explain different modes of working and approaching patients with dementia.

Through video examples from her clinical experience, she challenged and encouraged us to look into the uses of encounter and touch with those with dementia.


Participants were able to attend 4 workshops out of 11 available. I personally attended a workshop on music therapy in caretaking activities by Silke Kammer, one on songwriting by Jasmin Eikcholt, a further workshop to deepen Prof. Muthesius’ use of therapeutic touch, and a workshop by Dr. Arthur Schall on the impact of music in dementia.

I appreciated seeing a lot of what I have been doing in my job as a music therapist in a nursing home validated in the workshop with Silke Kammer. It also challenged me to further expand my repertoire, to further “personalize” and “contextualize” the songs I sing to accompany ADLs and it encouraged me to try to work closer with the nurses.

Jasmin Eickholt completed her PhD with a thesis on “Positive Psychology in Therapeutic Songwriting for People Living with Late-Life Depression—An Intervention Protocol.” She developed a model that she shared with us to facilitate songwriting, which groups songwriting possibilities into songs of Pleasure, Gratitude, and Flourishing. Composing new material at times might be challenging with the elderly. Yet, it is not only possible, but it can be a very enriching and transformative experience.

The workshop with Prof. Muthesius allowed participants to go deeper into her concept and use of touch in elderly care. She mentioned she teaches this to her students systematically and we were able to have a short taste of the initial steps in developing this skill. Mainly by working with the hands, we explored different levels and situations in which our patients might be passive to touch, where they might need a bit of movement, and when they might be stuck in a particular motion. We tried this out in pairs and had a self-experience with this kind of encounter.

Lastly, the workshop with Dr. Arthur Schall presented some background information on research in dementia care. He shared three projects with us that have been part of his work at the Institut für Allgemeinmedizin in Frankfurt am Main. They included a research into music therapy, one with a choir, and another one which has not started for interactive concerts.

The first one analysed music therapy in a home setting for people with dementia through video micro-analyses. He also participated in a project organizing and evaluating a choir for people with dementia and their companions. They tested emotional wellbeing, cortisol levels and depressive symptoms with the Geriatric Depression Scale. Lastly, he asked for our thoughts as they get their latest project running to evaluate the concept of interactive concerts.

Of course, that was only four workshops out of the eleven available. The other workshops were also full of useful information and learning for all participants!

Bundesinitiative Musik und Demenz

A very special part of this event was the launching of the project “Bundesinitiative – Musik und Demenz.”

The federal initiative “Music and Dementia” is a nationwide project to ensure needs-oriented music-therapeutic, music-geragogic and music-artistic offers, projects and measures for people with dementia, as well as to establish the necessary structures for this nationwide.

The partners for this project are the German Music Council (DMR e.V.) as the umbrella organization – in accordance with the Wiesbaden Declaration “Making Music 50+” – as well as the German Music Therapy Society (DMtG e.V.) and the German Society for Music Geragogy (DGfMG e.V.) as professional societies, the organizations that represent the main areas in the spectrum of music therapy, music geragogy and music-artistic offers for people with dementia nationwide.

The initiative launched a website which already includes some information and will be the home for future news on projects, grant opportunities and more: I encourage you to take a look! I am looking forward to seeing how this project develops, not only for the benefit for people with dementia in Germany, but as a potential example for initiatives in other countries.


In conclusion, this event brought together many experts, professionals, students, and interested parties for two days full of learning and exchange. We got to learn about the most recent research developments, we heard from the leading experts in the topic of music and dementia in the German-speaking world, and we learned practical skills in closed and small settings.

The very diverse audience showed that there is a wide interest in using music to improve the lives of those affected by dementia. We all left inspired and curious to see how the federal initiative will continue to foster the expansion of music opportunities around the country for those who need it.

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