Personalized Music Improved Mood in Adults with Dementia, Study Reports

Patricia Inacio, PhD avatar

by Patricia Inacio, PhD |

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Personalized music interventions may help enhance joy and social interaction among people with dementia who attend adult day health centers, a small study reports.

The study, “Results from a person-centered music intervention for individuals living with dementia” was published in the journal Geriatrics & Gerontology.

Dementia, which affects a large proportion of people with Alzheimer’s disease, is characterized by a wide range of behavioral and psychological symptoms, including wandering, repetitive speech, agitation, depression, sleep disturbances, and apathy.

Increasing evidence shows that music can stimulate multiple areas of the brain — not only those linked with emotion, but also mood control, motor skills, attention, and memory.

Previous studies have shown that music interventions may improve attention, and reduce anxiety and stress in patients undergoing treatment, suggesting that “person-centered music listening interventions are a promising non-pharmacological approach for individuals living with dementia,” researchers stated.

In the study, researchers at George Mason University in Virginia evaluated the effects of individual-music listening interventions on parameters including mood, agitation, and social engagement of 51 people with dementia who attended community-based adult day health centers.

There were 31 participants in the music intervention group, and 20 in the control group. Participants in the intervention group listened for 20 minutes, via headphones, to their personalized playlist, which was developed after asking caregivers about the participant’s favorite music or by playing different songs for participants to gauge their reactions.

Patients in the control group participated in daily planned activities, such as exercises and games.

Researchers collected data concerning each participant’s mood and agitation, as well as depression scores, before the intervention, immediately after it ended, and at a 6-week follow-up.

Patients’ depression and agitation were evaluated using two well-established scales, the Cornell Scale for Depression in Dementia (CSDD), and the Cohen-Mansfield Agitation Inventory (CMAI). Family caregivers completed both CSDD and CMAI.

Monitoring of participants’ behavior was done for 20 minutes before, during, and after the intervention, for a total of one hour.

While researchers detected no statistically significant changes, they noticed that the personalized music intervention had a positive impact on participants’ behavior, specifically a positive change in mood and a decrease in agitation.

Statistically significant increases were seen in joy, eye contact, eye movement, and participants’ engagement in social interaction. These patients were also more talkative.

Overall, these observations suggest that “personalized music has potential as a non-pharmacological intervention, particularly when the music choices are connected to positive memories for the individual living with dementia,” researchers wrote.

“The promising results of this affordable and meaningful intervention have propelled our team to develop an online training for direct care workers in long-term care communities,” Emily Ihara, PhD, the study’s lead author at George Mason University, said in a press release.

“The ‘Mason Music & Memory Initiative (M3I)‘ combines this training with the music intervention and will be implemented in over 100 Virginia nursing facilities over the next three years,” Ihara said.

The team said that such “low-cost, person-centered music listening intervention can be implemented across various types of care settings, transferring easily as individuals living with dementia require different levels of care throughout their life.”