University trials prove effectiveness of Music Therapy in dementia care

Music therapy is already a well established form of care in nursing and residential care homes across the United States. But while anecdotal evidence of its effectiveness abounds, scientific trials have been lacking, and UK care homes have been much slower to adopt it as a standard part of their care package for dementia patients.

Researchers at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge therefore set about conducting a scientific study that would be able to measure just how effective regular Music therapy sessions could be on improving patients’ symptoms, increasing well-being, and reducing disruptive behaviours.

Working with 2 care homes, academics from the University’s Music Therapy department, set up a music therapy group in each care home alongside a control group. All the participants in both music therapy and control groups were residents who had some form of dementia.

A qualified music therapist worked one to one with each of the participants in the 2 music therapy groups once a week for 5 months, while the control groups received normal care but without any music therapy.

At the end of the 5 month trial, all the participants were assessed. The effect of the therapy on their dementia symptoms was measured using neuropsychiatric inventory scores, the impact on  wellbeing by the use of Dementia Care Mapping scores, and disruptive behaviours by measuring the impact on the carer’s work routines and emotional impact.

Participants in the Music therapy groups demonstrated improvements in all 3 areas, and notably, measurements taken 2 months after the end of the study still showed continued progress.

The control groups however showed a decline in all 3 areas both during and after the trial period.

Carers working with the residents were involved in the study throughout. Each of the music therapy sessions was filmed and carers were able to watch the sessions afterwards and were encouraged to incorporate some of the techniques into resident’s routine care. In their interactions with the residents who had undertaken the music therapy sessions, the carers reported beneficial effects of the therapy, in particular on mood and emotion, but also memory, communication, apathy, agitation and anxiety.

The study has proved a resounding success. Publishing the findings online in the journal BM Geriatrics, Co-author Helen Odell-Miller, Professor of Music Therapy at the University commented:

"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."

Source article: Press Association 20/07/15

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  • 21 July 2015