Music therapy reduces dementia symptoms – new study

Published: 20 July 2015 at 12:30

Professor Helen Odell-Miller

Care home residents show significant improvements during music therapy trial

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A new study has demonstrated how music therapy can provide significant benefits for people with dementia living in UK care homes.

According to the Alzheimer’s Society, there are 850,000 people with dementia in the UK and 80 per cent of people in care homes have some form of memory problems or dementia.

The new open access research, published online by the journal BMC Geriatrics, took place in two Methodist Homes in Derby, and was carried out by academics from Anglia Ruskin University’s Music Therapy department.

In each care home there was a music therapy group as well as a control group, which didn’t participate in music therapy.  Both groups consisted of residents who had some form of dementia.

Participants in the intervention group received 1:1 music therapy once a week, in addition to standard care, over a period of five months.  Each session was conducted by a qualified music therapist and filmed, and the recordings were shown to carers working in the homes.

The group containing residents who took part in music therapy showed improvements in their dementia symptoms (measured using neuropsychiatric inventory scores) and wellbeing (measured using Dementia Care Mapping scores), as well as a decline in occupational disruptiveness to staff (the effect on the carer’s work routine and emotional impact).

These results were sustained after the trial ended, with measurements taken two months later showing continued improvement.  However, the control group showed a decline in all three areas during the course of the trial and two months afterwards.

As part of the study videos of the music therapy sessions were shown to the carers, who were encouraged to use some of the techniques with the residents.  Carers reported beneficial effects on residents, in particular on mood and emotion, as well as communication, memory, agitation, apathy and anxiety.

Co-author Helen Odell-Miller, Professor of Music Therapy at Anglia Ruskin University, said:

“Our study shows the sustained benefits of a music therapy programme on the symptoms of dementia, on the occupational disruptiveness of care home residents, and on levels of general wellbeing.  These benefits continued even once the programme had ended.

“By involving both care home residents and their carers, we explored how music therapy might bring changes to care giving.  Through watching videos of the sessions, staff saw how residents’ symptoms were reduced and how their remaining cognitive functions were activated.  As a result, carers were motivated to use these ideas in symptom management.

“Significantly, our findings show how staff education and training may be the most effective method in managing symptoms of dementia, and how music therapists can play a valuable role in this.”