A recent research focus has been on degenerative disorders of older adulthood due to the impending growth of this population in the coming years. One area of interest is identifying cost-effective treatments that can help families and individuals cope with dementia. A new study identified three promising non-pharmaceutical treatments, one of which was music therapy.
Hulme et al. (2010) completed a systematic review of reviews on non-pharmaceutical treatments for persons with dementia. Three services were noted as being effective in reducing behaviors associated with dementia including hand massage/touch, physical activity/exercise, and music therapy. Music therapy was particularly noted to reduce agitation, reduce aggression, and decrease wandering.
This was a review of other systematic reviews, with the latest on on music therapy in 2007. That means all of the research they were looking at was from before that date. I am guessing they choose this method because looking at the research studies in all non-pharmaceutical interventions would take a very long time (but you would find more current research). Also, this study grouped music listening and music therapy studies into one category.
The authors’ conclusions? There are several interventions that can help decrease behaviors in dementia. Some interventions, including music, can be provided for little or no cost; while others, including massage, require training. Well, it is true. You can turn on a person’s favorite CD without any training. However, what you do next including dialogue in the experience, changing music based on nonverbal cues, and creating a therapeutic experience do take training. This goes for group services as well, especially when facilitating therapeutic intervention with live, interactive music experiences. As a music therapist I would have liked the authors to clarify that music therapy interventions do require training in the form of a 4-year degree program.
Clinical implications: It is nice to have music therapy identified in a study that aims to find effective treatments. I especially like to see this when the reviewers aren’t from our discipline. Unfortunately this can sometimes lead to generalizations or misinformation and goes back to something I say in class all the time: we have to constantly educate people about what it is that we do and why it is effective.