Patients with Alzheimer's Disease and Dementia Positively Affected by Music

Music can have a positive impact on patients with Alzheimer's disease and dementia, according to ongoing research.

A nursing home program for dementia patients suggests that listening to music can improve memory, mood, and quality of life.

A program called Music & Memory, which has spread to 45 states and 6 countries, is being evaluated by researchers at the University of Wisconsin — Milwaukee. The program was developed in New York in 2006, but had not yet been clinically evaluated. The film was the subject of a 2014 documentary, “Alive Inside,” which won an award at the 2014 Milwaukee Film Festival. The investigators are monitoring the progress of 60 nursing home residents with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia across 10 sites.

The program is now being implemented at 100 nursing homes in Wisconsin. Family and staff are tasked with identifying a patient’s favorite music, creating a playlist, and demonstrating use of the iPod and headphones to listen to the music. Nursing home staff members who have seen the effects firsthand have described the program as “magical” for some of the non-communicative patients. Researchers then document residents’ interactions, monitor sleep patterns, put on wrist monitors to track movements, and collect music data.

The researchers hypothesize that the Music & Memory program may be as effective for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia patients as pharmacological treatments. The team also hopes the music can improve mood and behavior, which can help nursing home staff further tailor activities for each patient.

“Even if we develop dementia, our musical abilities and our memories associated with particular songs seem to remain intact,” Jung Kwak, PhD, associate professor, and the study’s co-principal investigator, said in a press release. “More than 70 percent of people with dementia are affected by depression, aggression, anxiety, apathy or withdrawal. The usual treatment is medication. We are studying whether people with dementia who listen to their favorite songs require less anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medications.”

The researchers expect to be able to compare nursing home patients who received iPods to those who did not, and compare the results. The program funds totaling about $300,000 were raised from federal funds and nursing home penalties. The conclusion from the study and final data is expected to be available by next summer.

The program founder, Dan Cohen, hopes that the research can reduce a stigma about visiting dementia patients and that the music will encourage family and friends to visit more often.

“Then (the patients) will feel more alive and won’t feel as isolated in these facilities,” he concluded.