Australia launches biggest global music therapy trial for people with dementia

University of Melbourne researchers will work with Bupa aged care home residents and their carers to undertake the world’s largest music therapy trial, with a focus on depression in those with dementia.

The three-year music therapy study started at Bupa’s Berwick and Greensborough homes and will extend to an additional eight Bupa homes. It will involve 500 participants from 38 other aged care homes across Australia.

Another 1000 participants living with dementia will be recruited from five countries in Europe.

University of Melbourne Head of Music Therapy Felicity Baker said the project has been funded by a $1 million grant from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).

“Those involved in the Music Interventions for Depression and Dementia in the Elderly (MIDDEL) study will receive group music therapy, recreational choir singing, a combination of both group and choir therapy or their usual in-home care,” Professor Baker said.

Music is connected to memories, which is how the residents are able to sing along to the lyrics and, in some cases, start moving when music begins.
University of Melbourne Head of Music Therapy Felicity Baker

“The power of this type of therapy is carefully selected music that can stimulate a recall of memories associated with happy times, known as the reminiscence bump."

“These memories might include a first love, a wedding, a graduation or any key milestones from their life. Music can really help promote a sense of identity, a sense of self-esteem.”

Participants in the music therapy study will have varying degrees of dementia and Bupa Head of Dementia Services Margaret Ryan said she hopes the findings will be positive for residents, their carers and their families.

From even just a small sample we see residents who have been reclusive are being more social – they are listening to the same music at the same time, watching each other and having fun together which can only be a good thing.
Bupa Head of Dementia Services Margaret Ryan

“Residents can request songs or styles of music. Having a choice in music has ensured that the musical intervention therapy is centred on our residents’ immediate enjoyment, but will also result in flow on effect for their enjoyment of life generally in the care home by giving them a sense of comfort, inclusion and emotional wellbeing,” she said.

Trevor Heydon, whose mother Josie is participating at the Greensborough home, said he has already seen changes in her levels of interaction and happiness.

“I’ve sat in on some of the sessions and I can tell it has improved her mood. She is opening herself up and getting around more instead of just sitting in the room,” Mr Heydon said.

“She is singing along to songs from 30s, 40s and 60s. It works with my mother because she gets a bit of a laugh out of it and that has been a great thing to see,” he said.

Read more aged care news