The powerful effect of music on humans in undeniable. Music has the ability to transport us to a different place and time, to stir emotions and memories we have long forgotten.
The same is true of music for people living with dementia and a new study shows that personalized music and memory therapy may help reduce the risk of medication and even help manage some of the negative behaviors associated with the disease.
A study published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry has found that music and memory therapy, personalized to the person listening, can improve symptoms of dementia and reduce the use of antipsychotic and anti-anxiety medication in people with the disease.
This study is the largest done to date when it comes to evaluating the effects of individualized music and memory therapy on dementia. The study lasted six months and evaluated the results from approximately 13,000 long-term residents in nearly 100 nursing homes. Researchers then compared their results to those of nearly 13,000 residents from 98 communities that did not participate in the music program.
The study found that music and memory therapy could replace psychoactive medications used to treat symptoms of dementia, which can have health risks. Kali Thomas, PhD and first author of the study, said:
“Results from this study offer the first evidence that the Music and Memory (M&M) individualized music program may be associated with reductions in antipsychotic and anxiolytic medication use as well as improvement in behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia among nursing home residents.”
Specifically, the study found that many of the residents who participated in the M&M program were able to discontinue use of antipsychotic medication and showed a decrease in the reduction of behavioral problems. No statistically significant difference was observed for rates of depression.
Authors of the study admit that the study does have limitations which include the nonrandomized design of the study, assumptions regarding timelines and availability of necessary equipment (iPods). Additionally, the study was not able to pinpoint which features of the program were the most effective.
Still, authors believe that, “although more insight is required to understand which residents are most likely to benefit from this particular music and memory therapy program and what improvement they experience, our findings signal that in the aggregate, the program is associated with improvement in the experience of care provided to residents with ADRD in nursing homes.”
Has a personalized music program helped your loved one with dementia? We’d love to hear your experiences and thoughts about this study in the comments below.