Music Therapy’s Effect on Agitation in Dementia

Music Therapy’s Effect on Agitation in Dementia

Older adults with Dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease may display challenging behaviors when confused or agitated. This can be associated with the diagnosis, new medications, or changes in the environment. If these behaviors are severe, temporary psychiatric hospitalization may be necessary. Vink, Et Al describes the benefits activities for these older adults in the article “The Effect of Music Therapy Compared with General Recreational Activities in Reducing Agitation in People with Dementia: A Randomised Controlled Trial.”

These demonstrated behaviors may be verbal or physical and may include general confusion, anger, combating care, wandering, or agitation. While these symptoms are often managed with medications, non-invasive forms of care (such as organized activities and music therapy groups) can decrease their symptoms as well and provide an opportunity for socialization and improving mood. Music therapy can use the music in the moment to adjust to individual needs. This may include song selection or moderating tempos of presented music in order to relax or stimulate individual as needed. The music therapist will meet the clients where they are in order to relax or awaken hospitalized older adults to better their quality of life and help manage symptoms.

In this particular study, 150 clients were in the music therapy group or a general activities group. Participating individuals had a diagnosis of Dementia and displayed a high number of problem behaviors. Both groups were 40 minutes long and were provided twice a week. Music therapy sessions included a welcome song and music was chosen in the moment based on group member preferences. The provided music sought to elicit pleasant memories and decrease agitation slowly relax the client through participation in music therapy group. The activity group included puzzles, games, shuffleboard, cooking activities, etc. In this study, music therapy was slightly more effective than the recreational activities.

This study provides a great example of the holistic care that often occurs in units for older adults in a psychiatric setting. Caring staff will provide therapeutic activities to assist in the med changes, environment changes, etc that your loved one may be facing. Music therapy can increase relaxation, quality of life, and mood for your loved one in a psychiatric setting and may even provide temporary distraction from their hospital stay. For more information on how music therapy can help your loved one, visit or continue browsing this site.

Jessica L. Schlabach, MM, MT-BC