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Can Music Help Reduce Depression In Care Home Residents With Dementia?

Emma Burnett

The University of Nottingham is currently representing the UK in the international-scale study with MIDDEL (Music Interventions for Dementia and Depression for Elderly Care), researching the impacts of music intervention for care home residents with mental conditions like dementia and depression.

Music is intrinsically linked to memory. We subconsciously associate songs with certain moments and people and places. In recent years, music has been at the centre of studies around dementia. A universally enjoyed form of entertainment, music is thought to have many benefits in a dementia setting, such as reducing anxiety, helping to maintain speech and language, and improving quality of life.

The study is taking place across 16 Runwood care homes across the UK. Researchers are evaluating the effectiveness of two musical approaches: formal music therapy and choir singing. They hope to discover how incorporating music into the daily routine of care home residents living with depression and dementia affects their symptoms and overall quality of life.

The MIDDEL study will hopefully help outline the most successful approaches to and combinations of musical activities, to conclude what a ‘critical dosage’ might look like. Eventually, the study will help to figure out what kind of music works best for which residents and at what cost.

Researchers at MIDDEL say that playing gentle background music can encourage care home residents to stay at the table longer, therefore benefitting them on a nutritional level. MIDDEL has also curated a playlist of the top songs for recognition amongst elderly dementia patients, including classics such as ‘Slow Boat to China’ and ‘Summer Holiday’, which are easy to sing along with and recognisable for patients aged over 70. They also highlighted, however, that ‘personalised playlists’ which hold individual resonance, can provide further benefits.

A dementia patient originally from Newcastle who emigrated to the United States at age 18 reconnected with her Northeastern roots when her carers played her the popular Geordie folk song Blaydon Races. Dorothy, 89, immediately picked up the song and was able to sing it lyric for lyric. The BMJ medical journal suggests that music can help to maintain social connections and slow down cognitive decline associated with dementia.

In addition to this, The BMJ has confirmed that musical interventions in dementia can improve behavioural disturbances,  aid long-term depression symptoms, reduce anxiety symptoms, and increase quality of life. This is beneficial not only to dementia patients themselves, but also to their carers and families. Above the symptomatic benefits of music, it also provides a source of pleasure and entertainment, and can ease feelings of loneliness and despair which are common amongst dementia patients.

Musical memory is a form of implicit memory, which is usually hardwired into the brain, but can deteriorate as a result of dementia. An incurable disease related to cognitive decline, dementia can only be aided by treatments which reduce symptoms and the progression of the condition. Therefore, music, as an economical, accessible and effective treatment method, is revolutionary for dementia patients, carers and their families.

The University of Nottingham’s partnership with MIDDEL will offer clarity on the most suitable methods of musical therapy, and the most cost-effective ways of implementing these into care homes. Their research brings an element of positivity to the devastation of dementia and the symptoms associated with it.

Emma Burnett

Featured image courtesy of Mark Paton via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.

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