Article image

Music helps dementia patients connect with caregivers

Dementia is a devastating disease that robs individuals of their connections with others. Researchers at Northwestern Medicine wanted to explore a unique way that music could help alleviate the isolation that comes with the disease. 

The study, recently published in Alzheimer Disease and Associated Disorders, looked specifically at how music could help bridge communication between patients and their caregivers. The research is unique because previous studies were focused solely on the patient, but the current study also considered the caregiver. 

The experts wanted to determine whether playing music from the patients’ youth while interacting (singing, dancing, and playing instruments) with their caregivers could illicit an emotional connection. Music is an ideal medium because the parts of the brain responsible for musical memory are some of the last affected by Alzheimer’s or dementia. 

Study lead author Dr. Borna Bonakdarpour explains the results: “Patients were able to connect with partners through music, a connection that was not available to them verbally. The family and friends of people with dementia also are affected by it. It’s painful for them when they can’t connect with a loved one. When language is no longer possible, music gives them a bridge to each other.”

Beyond improving the patients’ social engagement, the study revealed that participants and caregivers were less agitated and reported less anxiety and depression when connecting through music.

To carry out the study, the researchers observed two groups of individuals over three months. One group participated in interactive music therapy, and the other did not. Group discussions were held after each therapy session, and the researchers noticed that members of the group who participated in the music therapy made more eye contact and were less distracted than the control group. 

In fact, some therapy patients were barely verbal before the intervention and became conversational during the course of therapy. The researchers noted that the control group did not display the same changes. The positive effects were observed outside of therapy and with family members as well.

“As the program progressed, caregivers invited multiple family members,” said study co-author Jeffrey Wolfe. “It became a normalizing experience for the whole family. All could relate to their loved one despite their degree of dementia.”  

According to the experts, their next step is to repeat the study with a larger sample size. The research is published in the journal Alzheimer Disease & Associated Disorders

By Erin Moody , Staff Writer

News coming your way
The biggest news about our planet delivered to you each day