Singing Beneficial in Early Dementia

New research discovers musical leisure activities, particularly singing, can provide cognitive and emotional benefit for individuals experiencing early stages of dementia.

Dr. Teppo Särkämö and his team at the University of Helsinki found that caregiver-implemented musical leisure activities can enhance care for individuals challenged by the early stages of dementia. Importantly, the musical activities can be coordinated by a care-giver rather than a clinician.

The findings could help improve dementia care and better target the use of music in different stages of dementia. Study findings have been published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Initially, the researchers recruited 89 individuals with mild to moderate dementia and their caregivers to a single-blind randomized controlled trial. In the trial, test pairs received a 10-week music coaching intervention involving either regular singing or listening to familiar songs or standard care.

The study was designed after a nine month longitudinal investigation that included neuropsychological tests and mood questionnaires. In this prior research, investigators learned that musical activities were able to enhance various cognitive skills, such as working memory, executive functions, and orientation, and alleviate depression compared to standard care.

In the new investigation, scientists examined how different clinical and demographic factors influence the specific cognitive and emotional effects of the two music interventions. As such, researchers wanted to learn who would best benefit from musical intervention.

Looking at the backgrounds of the dementia patients, the researchers systematically evaluated the impact of dementia severity, etiology, age, care situation, and previous musical hobbies on the efficacy of the music interventions.

Singing was found to be beneficial for working memory, executive function, and orientation especially in persons with mild dementia and younger (< 80 years) age. Music listening was associated with cognitive benefits only in persons with a more advanced level of dementia. Both singing and music listening were more effective in alleviating depression especially in persons with mild, Alzheimer-type dementia.Importantly, and perhaps as a surprise, the musical background of the persons with dementia (whether they had sung or played an instrument before) did not influence the efficacy of the music interventions."Given the increasing global prevalence and burden of dementia and the limited resources in public health care for persons with dementia and their family caregivers, it is important to find alternative ways to maintain and stimulate cognitive, emotional, and social well-being in this population.Our findings suggest that musical leisure activities could be easily applied and widely used in dementia care and rehabilitation. Especially stimulating and engaging activities, such as singing, seem to be very promising for maintaining memory functioning in the early stages of dementia," Särkämö concludes.Source: IOS Press
Elderly woman singing photo by shutterstock.