Dementia patients could benefit from music therapy

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Researchers have revealed through a study that dementia patients could benefit from music therapy with marked improvements to their symptoms and wellbeing as well as a reduction in disruptiveness to staff at their care home.

Previous studies have already established the positive impact of music therapy on patients with dementia as it appears to be able reach parts of the damaged brain in ways other forms of communication cannot.

Researchers at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge say that their latest research provided proof that training the staff looking after dementia patients in how music can be beneficial to the patients could be the most effective way of managing their symptoms.

The intervention group patients 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, with the recordings later shown to carers working in the homes.

The patients in this group showed marked improvement 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). Researchers also found that the effect of this therapy sustained even after the trail period with measurement taken as long as two months after the trail period showing signs of continued improvement.

In contrast, the control group showed a decline in all three areas during the course of the trial and two months afterwards.

Researchers also found that carers who were shown the videos of the music therapy sessions implemented some of the techniques with the residents afterwards with results showing benefits – 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 the 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.”

The findings of the study are published in journal BMC Geriatrics.