A new American study has found that seniors with Alzheimer's disease and related dementias could benefit from listening to personalized music playlists to help them cope with the anxiety of living with their condition.
The results are from the first national study to look at the effect of an individualized music program called MUSIC & MEMORY in nursing homes with patients with dementia.
Carried out by researchers from Brown University, the study looked at more than 25,000 residents in 196 nursing homes across the USA.
All participants had dementia and cognitive impairment, but none were receiving hospice care and were not comatose.
Of the participants, 12,905 lived in nursing homes following the program, while 12,811 lived in non-program homes, allowing for comparisons to be made.
The team looked at four changes in each group; ending anti-psychotic medication, ending anti-anxiety medication, reductions in disruptive behavior and improvement in mood.
Although they found no significant differences in mood, the team did find that in homes which used the music program residents were significantly more likely to stop using their anti-psychotic and anti-anxiety medications and significantly less likely to show disruptive behaviors, compared to those in the non-music program homes.
Behavioral improvements are not only beneficial for the patients, said co-lead author Kali Thomas said, but also improve the quality of life for other patients and the morale of nursing home staff, adding "Research suggests there is a relationship between nursing staff turnover and residents' behaviors."
The findings also back up personal reports from caregivers and family members on the benefits of personalized music, which appears to help patients even when their dementia is highly advanced.
Co-lead author Kali Thomas has first-hand experience of the effects of music after her family tried a custom playlist with an uncle with dementia, and observed how much more relaxed he was after listening to his favorite music.
The results could also be important as many experts and advocates for patients have called for ways to reduce the use of anti-psychotic and anti-anxiety medications through a national campaign led by Medicare, pointed out co-lead author Rosa Baier.
Thomas and Baier now plan to conduct a second study which will take into account limitations of this research and help strengthen their results.
The results can be found online in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.