Results showed that the singing intervention improved working memory among patients with mild dementia and helped to preserve executive function and orientation among younger patients, and it also improved the well-being of caregivers. The listening intervention was found to have a positive impact on general cognition, working memory and quality of life, particularly among patients in institutional care with moderate dementia not caused by AD. Both interventions led to reductions in depression.
The findings suggest that “music has the power to improve mood and stimulate cognitive functions in dementia, most likely by engaging limbic and medial prefrontal brain regions, which are often preserved in the early stages of the illness,” study co-author Teppo Särkämö, PhD, a researcher at the University of Helsinki, Finland, told Psychiatry Advisor. “The results indicate that when used regularly, caregiver-implemented musical activities can be an important and easily applicable way to maintain the emotional and cognitive well-being of persons with dementia and also to reduce the psychological burden of family caregivers.”
Singing has also been shown to increase learning and retention of new verbal material in patients with AD, according to research3 published this year in the Journal of Clinical & Experimental Neuropsychology, and findings4 published in 2013 show that listening to familiar music improves the verbal narration of autobiographical memories in such patients. Another study5 found that a music intervention delivered in a group format reduced depression and delayed the deterioration of cognitive functions, especially short-term recall, in patients with mild and moderate dementia. Group-based music therapy appears to also decrease agitation among patients in all stages of dementia, as described in a systematic review6 published in 2014 in Nursing Times.
In addition to the effects of singing and listening to music on patients who already have dementia, playing a musical instrument may also offer some protection against the condition, according to a population-based twin study7 reported in 2014 in the International Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. Researchers at the University of Southern California found that older adults who played an instrument were 64% less likely than their non-musician twin to develop dementia or cognitive impairment.