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Music therapy 'valuable' for dementia carers and patient wellbeing, study shows

A study which saw dementia patients undergo music therapy resulted in improvements to their symptoms and wellbeing as well as a reduction in disruptiveness to staff at their care home.

Music therapy has long been known to help people with conditions such as dementia, as music appears to be able reach parts of the damaged brain in ways other forms of communication cannot.

Researchers at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge said their findings showed that training staff in how music can be beneficial to dementia patients could be the most effective way of managing their symptoms.

Their study took place in two care homes, with a music therapy group in each as well as a control group, which did not participate in music therapy. Both groups consisted of residents who had some form of dementia.

Participants in the intervention group received 1:1 music therapy once a week, in addition to standard care, over a period of five months.

Each session was conducted by a qualified music therapist and filmed, with the recordings later shown to carers working in the homes.

The group showed improvements in their dementia symptoms (measured using neuropsychiatric inventory scores) and wellbeing (measured using Dementia Care Mapping scores), as well as a decline in occupational disruptiveness to staff (the effect on the carer's work routine and emotional impact).

They found the results were sustained after the trial ended, with measurements taken two months later showing continued improvement.

But the control group showed a decline in all three areas during the course of the trial and two months afterwards.

Carers who were shown the videos of the music therapy sessions were encouraged to use some of the techniques with the residents afterwards, and they also reported beneficial effects, in particular on mood and emotion, as well as communication, memory, agitation, apathy and anxiety.

The study, which is published online by the journal BMC Geriatrics, took place in two Methodist Homes in Derby, and was carried out by academics from Anglia Ruskin University's Music Therapy department.

Co-author Helen Odell-Miller, professor of music therapy at the university, said: "Our study shows the sustained benefits of a music therapy programme on the symptoms of dementia, on the occupational disruptiveness of care home residents, and on levels of general wellbeing. These benefits continued even once the programme had ended.

"By involving both care home residents and their carers, we explored how music therapy might bring changes to care giving.

"Through watching videos of the sessions, staff saw how residents' symptoms were reduced and how their remaining cognitive functions were activated. As a result, carers were motivated to use these ideas in symptom management.

"Significantly, our findings show how staff education and training may be the most effective method in managing symptoms of dementia, and how music therapists can play a valuable role in this."

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