Music therapy improves social engagement for those with dementia￼
It’s always uplifting to see someone with dementia light up when they hear a favorite song from decades ago. Because the disorder impacts memory, thinking, communication, and decision-making, it’s helpful to know that music can often provide enough familiarity and enjoyment to trigger a positive memory for someone with Alzheimer’s.
But a new study published in the August 25, 2022 issue of Alzheimer Disease and Associated Disorders has also found that incorporating music therapy as an intervention for people with Alzheimer’s improved their well-being and social engagement with their caregiver.
A team of researchers from Northwestern Medicine, the Mayo Clinic, and the Institute for Therapy through the Arts recruited individuals with dementia, as well as caregivers, for a 12-week intervention that used musical bridges to memory (MBM).
After assessing the musical preferences, sociable behaviors, and dementia severity of the patients, the researchers had the participants attend a 45-minute live concert. Interaction during the concerts was encouraged by music therapists, and post-concert assessments included:
• a neuropsychiatric symptom questionnaire
• evaluating behaviors of the patients
• caregiver feedback
The team found that, compared to the control group members who received no music therapy, the intervention group demonstrated better nonverbal sociable behaviors. These included things like increased eye contact with caregivers, as well as more interest, calmness, and focus.
The caregivers, too, reported benefits, such as:
• a feeling of connecting with their loved one
• improved quality of their relationship
• decreased levels of stress in association with their loved ones’ symptoms
Limitations of the study
Although the results of the study were promising, there were some limitations that would require additional research. For example:
• The study was neither blind nor had randomized participants.
• The control group was made up of participants from only one memory care facility.
• The study only last 12 weeks, providing no long-term results to study.
• The sample size was small.
• The success of the music intervention was not assessed based on different causes of dementia.
• The participants who were chosen did not display behaviors like aggression, which are sometimes found in people with dementia.
According to study author Dr. Borna Bondkarpour, a neurologist and associate professor of neurology at Northwestern Medicine, more research is in the works.
“At this point, we have a 3-year grant through the National Endowment for the Arts to replicate our results in a larger group of patients,” he explained. “We also need to look into some physiological measures to confirm that this effect has biological (and not only psychological) effects on patients and caregivers.”
Wendy Burt-Thomas writes about the brain, mental health and parenting.
Check out the original research: