Research focus

Dementia therapy through music

Three studies examine the benefits of music-based therapies for people with dementia

Dementia is associated with a decline in cognitive, behavioural, social and emotional functions. Drug treatments have so far been largely ineffective in reducing symptoms and there is an increasing interest in non-pharmacological approaches, including music-based therapies

Picture shows two people playing drums and cymbals while others look on at a specialist dementia day care centre in London for people with moderate to severe dementia.
A specialist dementia day care centre in London. Picture: Alamy

Learning points

  • Music-based therapies may be used to alleviate symptoms of depression in people with dementia who live in care settings
  • Participating in therapeutic singing groups may increase quality of life for community-dwelling people with dementia and promote more engagement and better relationships with their family carers
  • Healthcare professionals should consider non-pharmacological approaches such as creative arts to improve the well-being of people with dementia and support for family caregivers

Music-based therapeutic interventions for people with dementia

Music-based interventions could alleviate depression and improve the well-being of people with dementia living in care settings, this study found.

Major healthcare databases, trial registers and grey literature were searched to identify randomised controlled trials. Outcomes included quality of life, mood disturbance or negative effect, behavioural problems, social behaviour and cognition.  A meta-analysis was conducted to estimate the treatment effects.

In total, 22 studies were included, with 21 contributing data to the meta-analysis. The 1,097 participants had varying degrees of dementia and lived in care facilities. Most trials employed a group-based music intervention which included listening and interaction. Seven provided individualised intervention.

There was low-quality evidence that music-based interventions improved emotional well-being, quality of life and reduced anxiety, but they had little or no effect on cognition. The music-based interventions reduced depressive symptoms and overall behaviour problems, but did not decrease agitation or aggression.

Effects on social behaviour were indeterminate due to very low-quality evidence. There was little or no effect at follow-up, but evidence was of very low quality.


‘Now he sings’. The My Musical Memories Reminiscence Programme: personalised interactive reminiscence sessions for people living with dementia

The role of the session leader and involvement of family carers and volunteers improved a music-based programme’s outcomes, an evaluation of its efects found.

The personalised programme aimed to increase interaction and reminiscence for people with dementia. Four different groups of participants, supported by trained volunteers, attended seven one-hour weekly sessions. A trained facilitator used familiar music together with visuals to promote engagement.

Family carers socialised during the sessions. Participants received a personalised booklet and CD of music on completion of the programme.

Data were collected through structured observations during the sessions, by individual interviews with session leaders and focus groups with informal carers pre- (n=17) and post-intervention (n=18), and with volunteers (n=12) post-intervention. A three-month follow-up interview was conducted with 19 people with dementia and their carers.

The intervention was positively appraised by all those involved. It promoted engagement, reminiscence and social interaction during the sessions, which continued for some participants up to three months later.

Community-dwelling people living with dementia and their family caregivers experience enhanced relationships and feelings of well-being following therapeutic group singing: a qualitative thematic analysis

Therapeutic singing groups can have short-term positive effects on the lives of community-dwelling people with dementia and their family caregivers, a pilot study facilitated by music therapists suggests.

Semi-structured interviews were conducted after 20 music sessions with nine people who have dementia and their family caregivers to investigate their reasons for participation, anticipated benefits, whether their expectations were met, how it made them feel, how it could be improved, what they learned and if they would recommend it to others.

Five main themes were identified.  Participants appreciated the therapeutic facilitation and intervention design, and therapeutic singing groups made singing more accessible, fostered supportive friendships with other participants, supported relationships between people with dementia and their family caregivers and augmented their feeling of well-being.

Compiled by Sue Davies, who is an independent researcher

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