Using a Group Music with Movement Intervention to Help Reduce Agitated Behaviors in Older Adults with Dementia

Group Music with Movement Intervention to Help Reduce Agitated Behaviors in Older Adults with Dementia

Dementia, a group of symptoms that affects social skills and memory to the point of hindering daily functioning, affects millions of older adults throughout the world. In Taiwan, approximately 5% of the aging population is diagnosed with dementia. Symptoms may include problems with memory, agitated behaviors, and negative emotion. Caretakers have identified agitated behaviors as the most challenging in caring for older adults with dementia, and many have been admitted to residential facilities for this reason. Effective interventions that minimize agitated behaviors is needed for the safety and comfort of both older adults with dementia and their caregivers.

Traditionally, agitated behaviors have been managed with physical restraints or antipsychotic drugs. These methods may cause adverse effects, however: Physical restraints can result in injuries or increased agitation, and antipsychotic drugs can cause harmful side effects. Alternative forms of treatment have been sought out, and one such form is the use of music. Research has shown that music can alleviate the feeling of pain, can be used as a form of communication even while difficulties with verbal communication exist, and can be used to modify the environment to mask unpleasant sounds, which can prevent anxiety in older adults with dementia. Because of its benefits, music may be effective in reducing how often agitated behaviors occur in these adults.

Sung, Chang, & Lee (2006) set out to examine the effects of a “group music with movement” intervention on the frequency of agitated behaviors of older adults with dementia in Taiwan. Their study involved experimental and control groups. Adults in the control group received typical care without an intervention. The experimental group received group music with movement for 30 minutes in the afternoon two times per week over four weeks. The intervention was led by a nursing researcher and two research assistants. The intervention involved using a 30-minute CD of recorded music that was familiar to participants and was at a moderate tempo. The participants were encouraged to follow the researchers’ directions for movement of their extremities and bodies. The music allowed for participation even with limited range of motion.

The researchers found that group music with movement significantly impacted the frequency of agitated behaviors in the older adults with dementia over time. The intervention gave the adults motivation to engage in an activity and the opportunity to interact socially with other group members. By the fourth week, there was a greater reduction in agitated behaviors that occurred as compared to the adults in the control group.

This study provides important implications for the treatment of adults with dementia. Agitated behaviors are unpleasant for the older adult and for the caretaker. However, when providing the older adult with an enjoyable activity that keeps him/her engaged and in a group setting where he/she has the opportunity to interact with others, agitated behaviors may decrease. Creating a group activity that involves music is one way this can be done, as the researchers demonstrated. If music is used, it is of utmost importance that it is preferred music so that its familiarity provides motivation and enjoyment.

Sung, H.-C., Chang, S.-M., Lee, W.-L., & Lee, M.-S. (2006). The effects of group music with movement intervention on agitated behaviours of institutionalized elders with dementia in Taiwan. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 14, 113-119.

Melissa Heffner, MT-BC