March 22, 2016

New research shows that music is beneficial in the early stages of dementia.


Alzheimer’s patients, in Music City or anywhere, shouldn’t give up their musical passions. New research, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, indicates that in early stages of dementia, musical activity can improve cognitive function.

“First and foremost, music gives people the confidence to continue to operate in ways they have before,” says William M. Petrie, M.D., a memory and aging specialist with Vanderbilt’s Behavioral Health team. “I think that many people who have cognitive impairment have relatively intact musical abilities.”


What does the study indicate?

In a single-blind randomized controlled trial, researchers at the University of Helsinki, Finland, provided dementia patients and their caregivers with a 10-week music-coaching intervention that either involved regular singing, listening to familiar songs or standard care.

They found singing to be beneficial for working memory, executive function and orientation, especially in people with early stages of dementia who were younger than 80. Listening to music was beneficial to those with more advanced stages of dementia. And both singing and listening to music helped alleviate depression, particularly in people with mild dementia. A person’s previous musical background did not influence these benefits.


What musical activities are beneficial?

Petrie recommends that his patients take piano or guitar lessons. “It’s a fabulous opportunity for learning,” he says. “The piano teacher comes regularly, it’s inexpensive and you have to practice. I myself started lessons at 65.”

He stresses that the lessons and the learning are the important factors. “The learning activity is good for you, and it provides opportunity for success.”

Petrie also likes to see patients get involved with, or continue to work with, their church choirs in early stages of dementia, or in later stages, participate in musical activities offered in care facilities. In addition to boosting memory and mood, musical activities can also be very valuable socially, he adds.

Wake up and smell the flowers. Learn more about the connection between Alzheimer’s and smell here.