Residents with dementia are likely to do better if caregivers encourage them to sing or listen to music, a new report finds.

Finnish researchers studied about 180 residents with mild to moderate dementia. They discovered that residents who sang or listened to music made improvements in memory, executive function, orientation and mood. People with more advanced forms of dementia saw the most notable cognitive benefits from music therapy. Whether the residents had prior musical experience did not seem to matter.

“Our findings suggest that musical leisure activities could be easily applied and widely used in dementia care and rehabilitation,” said Teppo Särkämö, Ph.D., who led the study. Full findings appear in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

“Given the increasing global prevalence and burden of dementia and the limited resources in public health care for persons with dementia and their family caregivers,” Särkämö said, “it is important to find alternative ways to maintain and stimulate cognitive, emotional and social well-being in this population.”