Music to our ears. New research guides the most effective approach to music and dementia

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New guidelines relating to the use of music for people with dementia have been published, thanks to findings from a recent study conducted in consultation with people living with dementia and their carers. 

Following the successful trial program, researchers from Western Sydney University’s MARCS Institute for Brain, Behaviour and Development have developed evidence-based recommendations for maximising the positive impact of music on a person with dementia. 

Funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia, the study looked at the effect of music on people with dementia living in aged care facilities and at home, and how it can be used to help manage symptoms. 

Lead researcher Dr Sandra Garrido said the study was prompted by reports of no response to music amongst some people with dementia, and negative responses amongst others. 

“We wanted to dig deeper to find out more about how individual symptoms might be interacting with different features of music, such as the tempo, or the lyrics, or the mode, so that we could develop a standardised way that music could be used for people with dementia,” said Dr Garrido. 

“Music can have really positive effects, but it’s important that its used in standardised ways, and that it becomes part of standard care practices in aged care facilities.” 

The team has published its findings in a paper titled Music Playlists for People with Dementia: Trialing A Guide for Caregivers. It includes support for the carers and families of people with dementia when using and selecting music. It also helps to identify individuals who may be more prone to having a negative response. 

The recommendations also cover how music can be used to help manage some of the psychological and behavioural symptoms of dementia. 

“We teach carers and families how to strategically select music that will specifically help them with their individual symptoms and challenges to care,” said Dr Garrido.