A new study has found that music and memory therapy can help reduce the need of antipsychotic and anti-anxiety medication for those suffering from dementia.

The study, the largest to date looking at music and memory therapy for dementia patients, was conducted by Kali Thomas, PhD, and colleagues and was featured in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

The study, in its conclusion, stated that:

“Results from this study offer the first evidence that the M&M [Music and Memory] individualised music program may be associated with reductions in antipsychotic and anxiolytic [to reduce anxiety] medication use as well as improvement in behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia among nursing home residents with ADRD.”

Conducting the study

The study involved researchers comparing the outcome of two groups over a period of six months. The first group consisted of 12,905 residents in care homes that were given music and memory therapy over the period. The other group, consisting of 12,811 residents, received no therapy.

The music and memory therapy for the first group consisted of allowing those residents the ability to freely listen to personalised music playlists, based on their personal preferences.  

Promising findings

The study aimed to look at three specific areas throughout the six months; the use of antipsychotic medication, the use of anxiolytic medication and general behavioural problems.

For the antipsychotic medication, researchers reported an increase in the number of patients using music and memory therapy discontinuing their use of a drug, an increase from 17.6% to 20.1%.

For the patients undertaking no music and memory therapy, these rates remained relatively the same, from 15.9% to 15.2%.

Similar trends were also observed for anxiolytic medication. Discontinuation in patients using music and memory therapy increased from 23.5% to 24.4% but decreased from 24.8% to 20% in patients from the other group.

There were also decreased rates noted regarding behavioural problems. Reduction rates increased from 50.9% to 56.5% in patients using music and memory therapy but decreased in those not using it.

The researchers did point out, however, that while depression rates were also looked into over the six-month period, there were no differences observed in either group of patients.

Limitations and conclusions

While the results were promising, researchers were also aware of the possible limitations of the study.

These limitations included the use of a non-randomised design, the fact that participation was not mandatory, as well as not being able to sufficiently identify the specific aspects of music and memory therapy that were most effective in helping those with dementia.

Despite these limitations, the researchers remain confident in their findings, stating that:

“Although more insight is required to understand which residents are most likely to benefit from this particular music therapy program and what improvement they experience, our findings signal that in the aggregate, the M&M program is associated with improvement in the experience of care provided to residents with ADRD in nursing homes.”