Dr Sandra Garrido

Sandra Garrido 

Senior Lecturer

The arts as medicine: how music can improve wellbeing.

Dr Sandra Garrido studies how arts-based interventions can affect our mood, emotions and wellbeing.
Her research has provided the evidence for effective programs and tools that use music to improve mood and quality of life for young people with depression and older people with dementia.

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It is well understood that the arts can improve mood; in fact, recent research has estimated people need at least two hours per week of arts engagement for good mental wellbeing.

But what has been missing is a clear understanding of what works and why for different people. This information is essential to develop evidence-based treatments and support programs using music, colour and other arts-based interventions.

Dr Garrido is a music psychologist whose work has provided this basic evidence. For example, she has conducted experimental research looking at different features of music, such as tempo, and how they influence the mood of people with certain symptomatic profiles.

This knowledge has been translated into systematic protocols for the use of music as well as effective tools and programs that are being widely used by both young and older people.

My work has provided better understanding of how music works as a medicine. We have gone right from the basic experimental research to translating our findings into programs and tools available for public use.


Depression and other mood disorders are common in both young people and the elderly. Music can improve mood and quality of life, and Dr Garrido’s work is showing how it can be used in a systematic way to achieve the best outcomes.

Her research shows that a four-week music-based intervention in aged care can result in significant improvements in overall quality of life, improved relationships with others, better conversational engagement, and better engagement and enjoyment. These immediate benefits are likely to flow on to long-term benefits.

This work has potential to support staff in aged care facilities as well as carers at home to reduce reliance on use of pharmacological approaches to supporting people living with dementia who experience changes in mood and behaviour.

As an example, Dr Garrido’s research has led to the co-design of a set of evidence-based guidelines and an online training course for aged care staff. These form part of the suite of tools used by consultants of the Dementia Centre, who advise the majority of aged care centres around Australia.

Available on the website musicfordementia.com.au, these resources include an interactive, free e-learning module on using music to help people living with dementia. Users can obtain a credential from Western Sydney University on developing personalised music programs in aged care, and understand how to create personalised playlists for people with dementia.

Dr Garrido's research can be used to help young people develop effective mood regulation strategies, develop health literacy around how music influences their mood, and encourage them to seek professional help.

I imagine a future where doctors prescribe engagement with the arts as part of overall care plans.

Dr Garrido developed an evidence-based tool for young people, the Moody Tunes smartphone app for mental health. Supported with a grant from the Mental Health Commission of NSW, the app aims to provide an appealing and engaging tool for young people to learn about mental health and self-manage their mood.


Dr Garrido has a background in both music history and psychology. Her work focuses on translational research involving arts in health contexts, in particular with people with dementia and depression.

She is a Senior Lecturer School of Psychology and the MARCS Institute, and Research Theme Leader, Lifecycle & Development, in the School of Psychology.

Her key previous appointments include Acting Director of Academic Program, Undergraduate (Years 1-3), School of Psychology; NHMRC-ARC Dementia Research Development Fellow at the MARCS Institute; Deputy Program Leader – Music, Cognition & Action program at the MARCS Institute; Deputy Director, Research at the MARCS Institute; and Postdoctoral Research Officer – Music and Adolescent Depression at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, University of Melbourne.

She is an associate editor of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, and was previously a committee member for AMPS and MSA, and a member of the editorial board of Musicae Scientiae.

She has published more than 70 academic publications, including a monograph entitled Why Are We Attracted to Sad Music? (2017).

Her research interests include dementia, depression, music perception and cognition, arts and mental health.


Dr Garrido’s arts-based programs are co-designed with young people and people in the health care sector.

For example, she has worked with The Dementia Centre, HammondCare to develop tools for using music to support people in aged care who experience changes to mood and behaviour.

Future work could involve collaboration with visual scientists, healthcare professionals, other stakeholders in health, arts organisations and aged care facilities.


Phone+61 2 9772 6279
Location Western Sydney University Westmead campus