One of the most significant impairments caused by dementia is agitation. Persons with dementia who are agitated often display disruptive behaviors that can inhibit their care. Some may be combative when facility workers or caregivers try to meet their needs, others may fidget or call out repeatedly. Agitation indicates patient distress, and can lead to caregiver burnout, and a reduced quality of for the patient and other facility residents.
Agitation is often managed by administering psychotropic medication. However, music therapy has also been shown to be effective in reducing agitation in nursing home residents with dementia. A 2013 study completed in Europe provided individual music therapy sessions to 42 nursing home residents with dementia. Residents received six weeks of standard care and six weeks of music therapy treatment.
Participants received two music therapy sessions per week, conducted by a formally educated and certified music therapist. Music therapists utilized musical improvisation, singing, dance or movement, music listening, or other activities (such as going for a walk with the participant) within music therapy sessions in order to facilitate initiative, engagement, self-expression, and mutual understanding.
Researchers found that instances of agitation increased while participants received standard care, and decreased during the six weeks where the participants received music therapy. Prescription of psychotropic medication for participants increased while participants received standard care only, but remained static while participants received music therapy. The researchers also noted that nursing home staff noticed the change and in one case asked for a CD of music used during music therapy session in order to continue to calm a particularly agitated patient.
By Amber Bruns, MT-BC
Ridder, H., Stige, B., Qvale, L., & Gold, C. (2013). Individual music therapy for agitation in dementia: An exploratory randomized controlled trial. Aging & Mental Health, 17(6), 667-678. https://doi.org/10.1080/13607863.2013.790926