Group music therapy may help reduce agitated behaviour in people with dementia

shutterstock_62314828 old woman plays guitar

For many of us, music therapy represents a safe, cheap and enjoyable treatment option for older people living in care. A ‘no brainer’ for those responsible for the daily activities provided to keep care home residents active in body and mind.

This small randomised controlled trial conducted by researchers from Taipei Medical University in Taiwan set out to explore the effectiveness of group music therapy as a treatment for reducing agitated behaviour in people with dementia.

104 people with dementia living in a nursing home were randomised to either:

  • Half an hour of group music sessions given twice a week for 6 weeks
  • Normal daily activities for 6 weeks

Assessments were made before the treatment began, at 3 weeks, at 6 weeks and one month after the treatment was completed. Longitudinal effects were analyzed by means of generalized estimating equations (GEEs).

The researchers reported that the group who received music therapy showed better performance at 3 weeks, 6 weeks and 1 month after treatment on a number of measures:

  • Reductions in agitated behaviour in general
  • Physically non-aggressive behaviour
  • Verbally non-aggressive behaviour
  • Physically aggressive behaviour

A reduction in verbally aggressive behaviour was shown only at 3 weeks.

The authors concluded:

Group music intervention alleviated agitated behavior in elderly persons with dementia. We suggest that nursing facilities for demented elderly persons incorporate group music intervention in routine activities in order to enhance emotional relaxation, create inter-personal interactions, and reduce future agitated behaviours.

Such a small trial cannot definitively answer whether or not group music therapy is an effective treatment for agitated behaviour in people with dementia, but given that this type of intervention is easy to provide, safe and lots of fun, it’s likely to be something we see more of in care homes over time.

Lin Y, Chu H, Yang CY, Chen CH, Chen SG, Chang HJ, Hsieh CJ, Chou KR. Effectiveness of group music intervention against agitated behavior in elderly persons with dementia. Int J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2011 Jul;26(7):670-8. doi: 10.1002/gps.2580. Epub 2010 Jul 29. [PubMed abstract]

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Andre Tomlin

André Tomlin is an Information Scientist with 20 years experience working in evidence-based healthcare. He's worked in the NHS, for Oxford University and since 2002 as Managing Director of Minervation Ltd, a consultancy company who do clever digital stuff for charities, universities and the public sector. Most recently André has been the driving force behind the Mental Elf and the National Elf Service; an innovative digital platform that helps professionals keep up to date with simple, clear and engaging summaries of evidence-based research. André is a Trustee at the Centre for Mental Health and an Honorary Research Fellow at University College London Division of Psychiatry. He lives in Bristol, surrounded by dogs, elflings and lots of woodland!

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