Music Therapy and Alzheimer’s Care

This study took place by the geriatric department in Lanspitali University Hospital in Reykjavik, Iceland. Researchers found that a majority of people living with Alzheimer’s disease show many episodic behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia, such as agitation and restlessness. This can lead to decreased wellbeing in patients, decreased quality of life, and an increase of heavy burden on the caregivers, (Scansdottir & Snaedal, 2006). These symptoms can determine the difference in one’s life as to where they live; at home, in a nursing facility, or an institution. 

Treatment to these symptoms are mostly pharmacological, which can include but are not limited to sedatives, neuroleptics, or antidepressants. This use of pharmacology may be inappropriate for the patient and their wellbeing due to side effects. 

Non-pharmacological treatments have received less attention due to lack of available and reliable research; and that’s why this study was born! Music therapy is a type of non-pharmacological treatment that can increase meaningful socialization, reduce sense of isolation, and increase wellbeing. 

This study contained 38 participants total ranging in ages from 71-87 years of age, and participation was rated accordingly of Behavior Pathology in Alzheimer’s Disease Rating Scale (BEHAVE-AD; Reisberg et al., 1987). The music therapy group received 18 sessions of music therapy lasting 30 minutes long, 3 times per week for 6 weeks. There were approximately 3-4 participants in each music therapy session.

The music provided were songs familiar to Icelanders selected by the music therapist. The music provided included singing, guitar accompaniment, and various instruments for patients to play. The songs were repeated twice throughout the session, and in between songs, it was reported that the “patients chatted with each other or with the music therapist” and “sometimes the patients had an urge to move and dance in harmony with the music and that was allowed freely”. 

After 6 weeks of music therapy was provided, it was stated there was a significant decrease in symptoms rated as activity disturbances in the therapy group and a significant reduction in symptoms in the therapy group, but not the control group of the study. 

By Gwen D’Amico, MT-BC

Svansdottir, H B, and J Snaedal. “Music Therapy in Moderate and Severe Dementia of Alzheimer’s Type: a Case-Control Study.” International Psychogeriatrics, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Dec. 2006,