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 Music Therapy Effective in Lowering Aggression, Study Finds

Receptive music therapy, where people strictly listen to music—as opposed to playing or singing along—is more effective in reducing agitation, behavioral problems, and anxiety in older individuals with dementia, according to a new study in the latest issue of JAMDA.

Researchers from The Chinese University of Hong Kong reviewed 38 trials involving the use of music therapy for 1,418 participants with dementia. The results showed that participants involved with receptive music therapy had significant decreases in agitation and behavioral problems, compared with “usual care” without this therapy. Meanwhile, there was no significant difference in behavioral problems and psychiatric symptoms between interactive music therapy and usual care.

JAMDA is the journal of AMDA – The Society for Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine.

According to the study, while music therapy has long been demonstrated to effectively relieve agitation and behavioral issues among people with dementia, the effectiveness of specific methods of music engagement has received less study and has remained uncertain, the study says.

It is important to consider the value of music therapy, the study says, as “nonpharmacologic intervention has been suggested as a viable treatment strategy for behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia.” In addition, such interventions present the additional benefit of having “no apparent adverse effects.” Hence, the study says, these efforts may help reduce the inappropriate use of antipsychotic drugs for behavioral symptoms.

Kelvin Tsoi, PhD, lead researcher of the study and associate professor at the Jockey Club School of Public Health and Primary Care at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, says the study reviewed the effects of longer six- to 24-week receptive music programs and shorter 60- to 90- minute programs, finding benefits in both. “Both long-term and short-term programs showed significant improvements for the older adults with dementia,” he says.

Other patients may find such programs beneficial, he says. “Receptive music therapy can relieve anxiety symptoms and agitation—and promote the well-being of older adults—which may also be helpful and important to older adults other than patients with dementia.”

Holly Harmon, RN, associate vice president, quality and clinical affairs, at the American Health Care Association, says that music is a powerful therapy for the mind that has transformative effects on mood and behavior. Music therapy also offers another way for long term and post-acute care providers to get to know patients on a deeper level.

“This is an opportunity to get to know each person living in the center on a deeper level through music,” Harmon says. “Become informed by what types of music bring each person peace or happiness, and use that learning to enhance their life wherever possible.”

“It is easy and convenient to implement receptive music therapy; therefore, we recommended the use of receptive music therapy in nursing homes, day care centers, and client homes,” the study says.

In terms of future study, Tsoi says the researchers are planning to develop digital musical therapy. This can be a platform to capture how patients listen to music and what type of music can help.

The study, “Receptive Music Therapy Is More Effective than Interactive Music Therapy to Relieve Behavioral and Psychological Symptoms of Dementia: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis,” features a special focus on care of persons with dementia and is in the July issue of JAMDA.

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