Earlier this year, the Journal of Clinical Nursing published a study (Sung et al. 2010) about the potential for music to reduce anxiety in older nursing home residents with dementia. The researchers compared two groups of residents in Taiwan, at the same nursing home: a control group of 23 who received standard nursing care, and 29 residents in an experimental group who spent 30 minutes listening to music of their choice, twice a week for six weeks, as provided by their nursing staff. At the end of the six weeks, the older adults who had been listening to their preferred music had significantly lower scores on an anxiety test (i.e., less anxiety) than their peers who received standard care and significantly lower than they’d had at the beginning of the six weeks.
The procedure was based on earlier evidence-based studies on anxiety and music therapy. The way that the music was chosen was particularly interesting; not only were the study participants consulted about their favorite music, but their family and caregivers were asked as well. The residents listened to music in the mid-afternoon because, the researchers claim, this is the time of day adults with dementia feel the most anxiety.
The authors bring up some limitations to their study. For instance, the participants, their nurses, and the researchers who rated the anxiety of the participants were aware of who was participating, which may have biased their evaluations. The study was also relatively small, so it’s hard to assess the validity of the findings. The demographics in this Taiwanese nursing home are different than most facilities in the U.S. or Canada—the majority of the study participants were male, and 76.9% had never received formal education. It would be valuable to see this kind of work replicated in larger, random-assignment samples and in other cultural settings.
This study is thought-provoking and suggests that a relatively inexpensive (and fun to implement) intervention may be useful for reducing anxiety among individuals with dementia. The authors hypothesize that the music contributed a sense of familiarity and stimulated pleasant memories for the participants.
Huei-Chuan Sung, Anne M Chang and Wen-Li Lee (2010). “A preferred music listening intervention to reduce anxiety in older adults with dementia in nursing homes,” Journal of Clinical Nursing, 19, pp. 1056–1064