News Archive 2015
You are here: Home > Resources > News > News Archive 2015 > Music therapy should be on prescription for people with dementia
10 October 2015
Music therapy should be on prescription for people with dementia
Dementia experts are calling for music therapy to be available on prescription for people with dementia. You can read Sue Learner's full article here.

We, the British Association for Music Therapy (BAMT), couldn’t agree more Sue. Thank you for highlighting the tremendous work of Veronica and her team at Arts4Dementia and for drawing attention to their report, ‘Music Reawakening’, which calls for music therapy to be integrated into the Dementia Care Pathway. This is something that the British Association for Music Therapy has been working on, and we have been collaborating with Veronica and Arts4Dementia, and other colleagues from the dementia, arts, health, state, and social care sectors to try and make this possible. 

We’re at an exciting stage in care for people with dementia and music therapy; there is an increasing body of evidence demonstrating the effectiveness music therapy has. The recent publication of the study by Hsu et al., published in BMC Geriatrics, highlights the beneficial effects of music therapy on the symptoms of dementia. This study’s findings, combined with findings from other music therapy research, demonstrate the ameliorating effects of music therapy on the neuropsychiatric symptoms of dementia. 

It was also found that music therapy was linked with higher levels of well-being, not only for those with dementia but also for those who care for them. Staff reported feeling more informed, skilled and motivated, hence improving the quality of care delivered within care homes. The ‘Ripple Effect’ research also highlights the positive impact music therapists can have on the residential care settings and improving sense of wellbeing. 

There is a wide range of musical and artistic interventions available for people with dementia and those who care for them; from community-based projects to highly individualised specialist individual music therapy sessions. Music therapy holds a unique position in the spectrum of care for people with dementia. Research conducted by Ragilo et al explored the effects of group music therapy on severe dementia symptoms, and found that music therapy was effective in reducing behavioural disorders of severely demented patients. Sadly, larger group based activities and experiences can become overwhelming and no longer appropriate for people with dementia when they are struggling with behaviour experienced as challenging to others in a way that might mean they are unable to access projects of this nature. This can be where the one to one offer within music therapy can support people with dementia and their families/carers to continue accessing care through a medium that facilitates and enables communication and connections in a world that often feels so confusing, remote, and isolating. This is where the research conducted by Ridder et al is exciting as they conducted a randomised control trial exploring individual music therapy for agitation in dementia, and found that music therapy reduces agitation disruptiveness and prevents medication increases in people with dementia. 

This example of individual music therapy, from one of our members, highlights beautifully and sensitively the work music therapists do: 

‘Donald was referred to music therapy in 2012. He was quiet and almost apologetic for his presence in social situations. It took him some time to find the words that he was looking for due to his diagnosis of dementia and this meant that often, he would not talk rather than putting himself through the trauma of stumbling over words. In his music therapy sessions, Donald found that he enjoyed improvising on the xylophone while the therapist played with him on piano. Following the shape and emotional content of his music, the therapist was able to support and encourage his sense of self and promote his confidence. When asked how he felt when playing he said “exhilarated” and went on to slowly explain that he found improvising music easier than talking.For someone like Donald who is becoming more and more isolated by their degenerating verbal abilities, the realisation that they can still communicate through music and create something worthwhile that is theirs, is a life affirming process. For 30 minutes a week Donald is able to communicate without it provoking anxiety and stress. He plays with a broad smile on his face and when we finish his happy mood takes him back to the lounge where he sits peacefully.’ 

Music therapy is also unique in that music therapists are able to accompany people through their whole dementia journey; from diagnosis to the end of life. This is because of their highly specialised clinical and professional training, necessary and essential for undertaking work of such a delicate, sensitive and often variable nature, as working with dementia can be. 

What is clear is that in whatever form the arts are accessed, they have a positive impact for people with dementia, and we continue to look forward to collaborating with colleagues and working together as artists and arts therapists in order to best support the dementia community, and to make music therapy a standard part of the dementia care pathway.