Music to treat Alzheimer’s disease and support caregivers

Small Study Reveals Exciting Benefits of Using Personalized Music Therapy in the Treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease

John Bufalini vividly remembers the first time he witnessed what music can do when he was a freshman medical student at Penn State College of Medicine.

He saw the room in an assisted living facility transform as an elderly woman danced to the music of her youth. When her husband later took her hands and joined her on a two-step tour of space, Bufalini watched in awe as the couple joyfully filled the room in the skilled nursing unit.

“That’s when I first witnessed the true power of music,” said Bufalini, who is now an internal medicine resident at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

“I saw a quiet woman go from sitting in a chair, passively interacting with her world, to an animated woman dancing around the room. I also saw her husband enjoying every step of this transformation.

Bufalini observed this moment while collecting data during a research study overseen by Daniel George, associate professor of humanities and public health, and Paul Eslinger, professor of neurology and neuropsychologist. Bufalini worked with George and Eslinger to assess the effects of personalized music interventions on people with dementia and their caregivers.

While previous studies have shown that music-based interventions can improve the quality of life for people with Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders, the researchers believe their study was one of the first to investigate how music could also benefit caregivers, who are often spouses, adult children and siblings. They found that caregivers reported feeling less overwhelmed after participating in the music sessions.

“Caregivers experience significant joys but also burdens in caring for their loved ones and are overlooked in many studies,” George said. “The number of caregivers, often family members, continues to grow as the world ages and the incidence of dementia increases.

“We hypothesized that personalized music would lead to increased interpersonal interactions between residents and their caregivers and promote a greater sense of well-being.”

Alzheimer’s disease and related forms of dementia, which affect 6 million Americans each year and 25 million people worldwide, can significantly affect not only individual cognition, but also family relationships, researchers say. . They say being able to stay personally and emotionally connected through music can complement current drug treatment as the disease progresses.

“A person’s musical memories can span decades and be associated with key life experiences and memories,” Eslinger said. “Music can trigger these memories and experiences more automatically than through words because they have been emotionally associated.

“These types of emotion-based memories are more resistant to Alzheimer’s disease, which is why music can still elicit them.”

Seven residents of a skilled nursing facility (ages 76 to 92) and their caregivers (ages 53 to 84) participated in eight music intervention sessions in which participants listened to personalized playlists for approximately 15 minutes. Before and after each session, caregivers answered questions about whether they felt overwhelmed or helpful to the resident, and their perceptions of the resident’s care and condition. During the sessions, Bufalini observed the pairs for eye contact, physical touch, smiling, relaxed breathing and posture, and positive verbal communication.

Although the sample size was small, data analysis revealed that caregivers reported feeling significantly less overwhelmed after music intervention sessions. The researchers also noted that there were still trends in the data that could have clinical implications. Caregivers reported feeling more positive and optimistic and having a better appreciation of their relationship with the resident. The researchers also observed an increase in bonding between the pairs. The study results were published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease Reports in February.

“Given the considerable challenges in drug development for dementia, approaches that engage the senses and connect with something fundamentally human are our best tools to support the quality of life of people with dementia,” said George .

Although the researchers have no immediate plans to expand their study, they hope others can continue to explore the use of music to improve quality of life for caregivers and patients, given the strong neurological rationale. and socio-emotional activity. They noted that personalized intervention could take place both in private homes as well as at the institutional level. Given the low cost of the design, they believe it can be implemented anywhere, including facilities with limited resources.

“Personalized music-based interventions could help caregivers provide assistance to their loved one who has memory loss,” Bufalini said. “They can also improve the caregiving experience by reducing caregiver stress and burden.”

The researchers reported no conflicts of interest.

Support for the project came from the Penn State Clinical and Translational Science Institute through the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences at the National Institutes of Health and the Joseph and Mary Caputo Research Award from the Penn State College of Medicine Doctors Kienle Center for Humanistic Medicine. The content is the sole responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the funders.

This article was originally published by Penn State. Republished via under Creative Commons License 4.0.

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