Music Therapy Beneficial for Dementia Patients: Expert Analysis from the Annual, Conference of the American Society on Aging

By Harrison, Laird | Clinical Psychiatry News, June 2011 | Go to article overview

Music Therapy Beneficial for Dementia Patients: Expert Analysis from the Annual, Conference of the American Society on Aging


Harrison, Laird, Clinical Psychiatry News


SAN FRANCISCO - Music therapy can improve symptoms of depression and agitation in residents with dementia, according to researchers who described an innovative program in the MJHS health system in New York.

"There was a major drop in agitation after 2 weeks of music therapy" said Dr. Mary S. Mittelman, director of the psychosocial research and support programs at nearby Langone Medical Center, and statistical analyst for the pilot program. "Depression went way down."

While most nursing homes offer music as passive entertainment, the researchers tried to systematically engage residents as active participants who move in time to the music, sing, or play instruments.

Music may stimulate people with dementia in a way that language cannot, said Jan Maier, R.N., of the Research Triangle Institute International in Durham, N.C., who offered background information on music therapy. "In dementia, the parts of the brain that have to do with music and emotional memory are preserved," she said.

She cited anecdotal reports of people with dementia learning three-part rounds or recalling the words to long hymns they sang in their youth. In some documented cases, former professional musicians with such severe dementia that they couldn't dress themselves have been able to play instruments in ensembles, she said.

"People who don't remember their son or daughter who come to visit will remember the person who leads their music group, and say, 'Do we have music today?'" Ms. Maier said.

A handful of randomized controlled trials have shown reductions in agitation in patients with dementia who participate in music therapy, she said, citing among other studies one by researchers in Taipei, Taiwan, that recently documented the effect (Int. J. Geriatr. Psychiatry 2011 July; 26:670-8 [doi: 10.1002/gps.2580]).

Music therapy has great potential in long-term care, Dr. Mittelman said, since about 70% of nursing home residents over age 75 years suffer from dementia,

The MJHS system developed protocols in which the residents sang along or moved in time to the music, and others that incorporated music into activities of daily living, such as wound care, bathing, and range-of-motion exercises.

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Music Therapy Beneficial for Dementia Patients: Expert Analysis from the Annual, Conference of the American Society on Aging
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