Dementia, a diverse group of disorders, can have a profound impact on a person’s memory, reasoning abilities, and communication skills. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the term dementia serves as an umbrella term encompassing conditions that impact memory, thinking, and decision-making.(1) As dementia progresses, individuals may find it increasingly challenging to engage socially and communicate effectively, straining their relationships, particularly with caregivers.
However, now, a recent study published in the journal Alzheimer Disease and Associated Disorders sheds light on a promising intervention: a specific form of music therapy.(2) This innovative approach not only enhances social engagement for individuals with dementia, but also alleviates distress experienced by their caregivers. Read on to find out more as we unravel the potential of music in dementia care.
What Exactly is Dementia? – A Brief Profile
Dementia is a complex set of disorders characterized by a decline in cognitive functions such as memory, reasoning, and communication. It is an umbrella term encompassing various conditions that affect memory, thinking, and decision-making. As dementia progresses, patients may experience difficulties in social engagement and communication, which can strain their relationships, particularly with caregivers.(3,4)
Recent studies have explored innovative interventions like music therapy, showing promising results in improving social engagement for individuals with dementia and reducing caregiver distress.(5)
Power of Music Therapy in Dementia Care – What Does Research Show?
In the realm of dementia care, both medications and lifestyle adjustments play crucial roles in symptom management. However, recent research has put the spotlight on non-pharmacological interventions, especially music therapy, as being a promising avenue for benefiting individuals with dementia.
Music therapy harnesses the profound connection between sensory experiences and memories. Even in cases where cognitive functions are impaired, individuals with dementia often retain deep associations with music. The premise of the research study published in Alzheimer Disease and Associated Disorders was that playing a piece of music with personal meaning can trigger a flood of memories for individuals with dementia.(2)
The study underscored the importance of using music from a person’s formative years, roughly spanning ages seven years to their mid-20s. These songs are typically securely stored in the recesses of memory, which appear to be seemingly resistant to the eroding effects of dementia. In fact, the researching team even emphasized on instances where even in the face of not recognizing a spouse of many decades, the music of a wedding song rekindled recognition, leading to a heartfelt dance between partners.
This insight into the profound impact of music therapy sheds light on its potential as a non-pharmacological intervention, offering a unique avenue for improving the lives of those with dementia and fostering connections with their loved ones.
Building a Personalized Approach to Healing from Dementia
This recent study explored the potential benefits of music therapy for both individuals with dementia and their dedicated caregivers. The study, conducted in memory care facilities, sought to understand the profound effects of a 12-week intervention known as “musical bridges to memory” (MBM).(6,7)
The study’s success depended on recognizing the importance of personal musical preferences. According to the researchers, patient-preferred music holds the greatest impact, considering the subjective nature of musical experiences. What one person finds soothing, another may find invigorating, based on the unique memories attached to the music.
The MBM intervention encompassed various elements, including caregiver training, live 45-minute concerts, and interactive breakout sessions following the performances. Music therapists actively encouraged engagement during the concerts and facilitated follow-up discussions. Subsequent assessments even incorporated a neuropsychiatric symptoms questionnaire, evaluating behaviors, and garnering feedback from caregivers.
What is noteworthy is that results from the intervention group were quite promising. Participants with dementia showed better non-verbal sociable behaviors, such as increased eye contact, heightened interest, focused attention, and an overall sense of calmness when compared to the control group.
Caregivers also reported reduced levels of stress in relation to their loved ones’ symptoms. The research team highlighted how the program facilitated deeper connections and heightened the overall quality of their relationships with those in their care.(8)
Study authors emphasized the significance of their findings, noting that music has the potential to enhance social engagement between individuals with dementia and their loved ones, while simultaneously reducing stress levels in caregivers.
How Does Music Therapy Help in Dementia?
Music therapy provides a multifaceted approach to supporting individuals with dementia. Through the power of music, this therapeutic intervention offers a unique channel for emotional expression, even when verbal communication becomes challenging. Familiar songs from the past have the remarkable ability to trigger memories, fostering a sense of connection and comfort. Here are some other benefits that music therapy offers for people with dementia:(9,10)
- Emotional Expression: Music provides a medium for emotional expression, allowing individuals with dementia to communicate and convey their feelings even when verbal communication becomes challenging.
- Improved Mood: Engaging with music can trigger the release of neurotransmitters like dopamine, which are associated with pleasure and reward. This can lead to improved mood, reduced anxiety, and an overall sense of well-being.
- Enhanced Cognitive Function: Music therapy can stimulate cognitive functions such as attention, memory, and problem-solving skills. Engaging with music activates various regions of the brain, promoting cognitive engagement.(11)
- Reduced Agitation and Aggression: Music therapy has been shown to decrease instances of agitation and aggression in individuals with dementia. Calming music or personalized playlists can have a soothing effect.
- Promotes Social Interaction: Group music therapy sessions encourage socialization and interaction among participants. It provides a shared activity that can foster connections and a sense of community.
- Improved Quality of Life: Engaging in music therapy can lead to an overall improvement in the individual’s quality of life. It provides a source of joy, comfort, and meaningful engagement.(12)
- Stress Reduction for Caregivers: Music therapy not only benefits individuals with dementia but also provides a source of respite and relief for caregivers. It offers a positive, enjoyable activity to share with their loved ones.
- Non-pharmacological Intervention: Music therapy offers a non-pharmacological approach to symptom management, reducing the reliance on medications and their potential side effects.
Overall, music therapy is a powerful tool in dementia care, offering a range of emotional, cognitive, and social benefits for both individuals with dementia and their caregivers.
Exploring Further Scope of Music Therapy for Dementia Care amidst Study Limitations
While the study successfully demonstrated the positive impact of music intervention on both individuals with dementia and their caregivers, it is important to acknowledge that the study also had certain limitations, including:
- Inability to Implement Blinding and Randomization: Due to the nature of the intervention, blinding and randomization were not feasible. Nevertheless, the inclusion of a control group, even if limited to one memory care facility, provided valuable insights for evaluating the results.
- Short-Term Study Duration: The study’s duration was confined to 12 weeks, preventing an assessment of the long-term effects of the intervention. Extended research may be necessary to fully grasp the enduring benefits.
- Relatively Small Sample Size: The sample size was modest, warranting a need for more extensive data before making broader generalizations.
- Specific Evaluation Scales: Future research may benefit from utilizing evaluation scales tailored specifically to the “musical bridges to memory” intervention.
- Baseline Levels of Unsociable Behaviors: Participants with dementia did not exhibit high levels of unsociable behaviors like aggression at the study’s outset.
- Cause-Based Assessment of Dementia: The study did not assess the intervention’s success based on the underlying cause of participants’ dementia.
Many experts have expressed optimism over the results of the study and also regarding the continued exploration of this field.
Other Non-pharmacological Interventions That May Help In Dementia
There are many other non-pharmacological interventions that can be beneficial for individuals with dementia. These include:
- Cognitive Stimulation: Engaging activities that stimulate cognitive functions, such as puzzles, games, and reminiscence therapy, can help maintain mental agility and provide a sense of accomplishment.(13)
- Physical Exercise: Regular physical activity can improve overall well-being, balance, and mobility. It also contributes to better sleep and reduced behavioral issues.
- Art and Creativity Therapy: Engaging in artistic activities like painting, drawing, or crafting can provide a means of self-expression and promote a sense of purpose.
- Sensory Stimulation: Utilizing various sensory stimuli, such as aromatherapy, tactile objects, or soothing sounds, can help individuals with dementia connect with their environment and enhance their sensory experiences.
- Reality Orientation Therapy: This technique involves providing structured information about time, place, and person to help individuals maintain a clear sense of reality and reduce disorientation.(14)
- Validation Therapy: This approach focuses on empathetic communication and acknowledgment of the person’s emotions, even if their statements or memories may not align with reality. (15)
- Pet Therapy: Interacting with animals, such as therapy dogs, can provide comfort, reduce anxiety, and promote social engagement.
It is important to note that the effectiveness of these non-pharmacological methods may vary from person to person, and a personalized approach tailored to the individual’s preferences and needs is key. Additionally, these non-pharmacological interventions are often most effective when used in conjunction with a comprehensive dementia care plan.
Discovering the potential of music in helping those with dementia has been truly enlightening. It is like finding a special key that unlocks many positive feelings and memories. This is not just good for the person with dementia, but also for the people who take care of them. As we learn more and develop new ways, like “musical bridges to memory,” it is possible that music therapy could become a central part of how we care for people with dementia. Music has a unique power to touch our hearts, and in the journey of dementia, it can bring more joy and meaningful connections.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2019). What is dementia? [online] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/aging/dementia/index.html.
- Schafer, R., Karstens, A., Hospelhorn, E., Wolfe, J., Ziemba, A., Wise, P., Crown, R., Rook, J. and Bonakdarpour, B. (2022). Musical Bridges to Memory: A Pilot Dyadic Music Intervention to Improve Social Engagement in Dementia. Alzheimer Disease & Associated Disorders, [online] p.10.1097/WAD.0000000000000525. doi:https://doi.org/10.1097/WAD.0000000000000525.
- Gustafson, L., 1996. What is dementia?. Acta Neurologica Scandinavica, 94, pp.22-24.
- Sandilyan, M.B. and Dening, T., 2019. What is dementia. Evidence Based Practice in Dementia for Nurses and Nursing Students. Jessica Kingsley, London, pp.12-26.
- Vink, A.C., Bruinsma, M.S. and Scholten, R.J., 2003. Music therapy for people with dementia. Cochrane database of systematic reviews, (4).
- Schafer, R., Karstens, A., Hospelhorn, E., Wolfe, J., Ziemba, A., Wise, P., Crown, R., Rook, J. and Bonakdarpour, B., 2022. Musical Bridges to Memory: A Pilot Dyadic Music Intervention to Improve Social Engagement in Dementia. Alzheimer Disease & Associated Disorders, 36(4), pp.312-318.
- Schafer, R., Karstens, A.J., Hospelhorn, E., Wolfe, J., Ziemba, A., Wise, P., Crown, R., Rook, J. and Bonakdarpour, B., 2020. Musical Bridges to Memory (MBM): Exploring the effects of a dyadic music‐based group intervention on social engagement and neuropsychiatric symptoms in persons with dementia: Dementia care research (research projects; nonpharmacological)/Therapeutic strategies and interventions. Alzheimer’s & Dementia, 16, p.e043243.
- de la Cuesta‐Benjumea, C., 2011. Strategies for the relief of burden in advanced dementia care‐giving. Journal of advanced nursing, 67(8), pp.1790-1799.
- Gómez-Romero, M., Jiménez-Palomares, M., Rodríguez-Mansilla, J., Flores-Nieto, A., Garrido-Ardila, E.M. and González-López-Arza, M.V., 2017. Benefits of music therapy on behaviour disorders in subjects diagnosed with dementia: A systematic review. Neurología (English Edition), 32(4), pp.253-263.
- Lam, H.L., Li, W.T.V., Laher, I. and Wong, R.Y., 2020. Effects of music therapy on patients with dementia—A systematic review. Geriatrics, 5(4), p.62.
- Haslbeck, F.B., Jakab, A., Held, U., Bassler, D., Bucher, H.U. and Hagmann, C., 2020. Creative music therapy to promote brain function and brain structure in preterm infants: A randomized controlled pilot study. NeuroImage: Clinical, 25, p.102171.
- Solé, C., Mercadal-Brotons, M., Galati, A. and De Castro, M., 2014. Effects of group music therapy on quality of life, affect, and participation in people with varying levels of dementia. Journal of music therapy, 51(1), pp.103-125.
- Aguirre, E., Woods, R.T., Spector, A. and Orrell, M., 2013. Cognitive stimulation for dementia: a systematic review of the evidence of effectiveness from randomised controlled trials. Ageing research reviews, 12(1), pp.253-262.
- Spector, A.E., Orrell, M., Davies, S.P., Woods, B. and Cochrane Dementia and Cognitive Improvement Group, 1996. Reality orientation for dementia. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2005(3).
- Neal, M., Barton Wright, P. and Cochrane Dementia and Cognitive Improvement Group, 1996. Validation therapy for dementia. Cochrane database of systematic reviews, 2010(1).