Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia. According to a new study led by Dr. Teppo Särkämö and the University of Helsinki, Finland, memory and mood in people with dementia improve when their caregivers encourage and help them take part in regular musical pursuits such as singing or listening to music.
Initially, the researchers assigned 89 pairs of patients with mild to moderate dementia and their caregivers to one of three groups. In two of the groups, the pairs took part in 10 weeks of regular music coaching. One focused on singing and the other on listening to music. Those in the third group only involved standard care.
Assessments undertaken 9 months after the interventions showed that there were improvements in memory, executive function, orientation and mood in the groups that received musical coaching, compared with the standard care group. Executive function is like the supervisor of brain processes that helps us focus attention, plan, remember and manage several tasks at the same time.
In the latest study, the researchers examined the factors that might influence the mental and emotional effects of the musical activities in order to see who might benefit the most from them. The team looked at how the severity and origin of the dementia, the age of the patient, their care situation and any previous engagement in musical hobbies might influence the effect of the musical activities.
They found that the most benefit for working memory, executive function and orientation came from singing - especially in patients with mild dementia and those under 80 years of age. And for patients with more advanced forms of dementia, listening to music led to the most cognitive benefits.
However, both singing and music listening alleviated depression more, especially in patients with mild, Alzheimer's-type dementia - compared with standard care.
In addition, the researchers noted the musical background of the patient - that is, whether or not they had hobbies like singing or playing a musical instrument - made no difference to the results. So, regardless of your loved one's musical background, it might be worthwhile to try to incorporate some musical activity into the day.