The individualized music program designed for nursing homes, called Music and Memory, didn’t improve mood problems, but patients who listened to music tailored to their tastes and memories did need less anti-anxiety and anti-psychotic medication, researchers found.
The Brown University study revealed that after homes adopted the program residents with dementia became considerably more likely to discontinue antipsychotic medications and considerably less likely to engage in disruptive behaviours, however, the study of more than 25,000 residents in 196 nursing homes did not identify a significant improvement in mood.
“This is promising,” said co-lead author Rosa Baier, an associate professor of practice at the Brown University School of Public Health. “It’s a first step to understanding that there may be improvements that can be attributed to this intervention.”
To establish what the program accomplishes, the researchers applied Music and Memory in 98 nursing homes with a total of about 13,000 residents with Alzheimer’s disease or non-Alzheimer’s dementia and followed a roughly equal number of residents with dementia in 98 nursing homes without the program for comparison.
Nursing homes using the music program reported greater improvements in residents’ behaviour. The proportion of residents with reduced dementia-related behavioural problems rose from 51 percent to 57 percent, while the comparison group remained the same.
The benefits of music for people with dementia go beyond behaviour management, said Orii McDermott, a senior research fellow at the University of Nottingham in the UK, who was not involved in the study.
“Sharing favourite music or taking part in music activities offer social opportunities for people with dementia,” said McDermott, adding that social interaction is extremely important because the progression of dementia often leads to isolation.
“For busy care home staff, finding out each resident’s preferred music may feel like a time consuming task,” McDermott said. However, “people with dementia find individualized music interventions meaningful and improve their quality of life – so it will be a time well spent in the long run,” she noted.
“The population of older adults with dementia, in particular those residing in nursing homes, is large and is growing,” Thomas said. “This study suggests that Music and Memory may be one intervention that holds promise.”