Anyone who enjoys music knows that it can have a positive effect on mood and even productivity. But did you know that music can potentially reverse cognitive decline in people who have Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia? That’s what a new study out of Colorado State University (CSU) in Fort Collins, Colorado found.
The program, B Sharp, was a collaboration between CSU, Banner Health, Kaiser Permanente, the Fort Collins Symphony, a certified dementia practitioner, the Alzheimer’s Association, and the Larimer County Office on Aging.
B Sharp is an arts engagement program that invites people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia to attend a series of five symphony performances along with their caregivers. For the study, participants were given cognitive tests before and after concerts. They were also evaluated by the Geriatric Depression Scale and a mood assessment. The cognitive test they were given is called RBANS. It’s a neuropsychological assessment that measures current cognitive functioning and improvement and/or decline. Caregivers also participated in assessments, including surveys, social network mapping, phone calls, interviews, and focus groups that helped assess their social connections.
The researchers at CSU spent nine months studying the impact of the program, and they found that most participants experienced a reversal of cognitive decline, which was an unexpected result.
Lead researcher and associate professor in the Department of Sociology at CSU, Jeni Cross, said the team had hoped to keep cognitive function from declining through the symphony visits. They were pleasantly surprised to find that most participants actually improved in cognitive functioning.
Symphony attendance had other positive effects as well. For example, it improved alertness, mood, feelings of acceptance, sense of community, engagement, and interactions between caregivers and those with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
Another result was the benefits caregivers experienced. Oftentimes, caregivers feel like they lose the reciprocal relationship with their loved one because of a declining ability to give back. Caregivers also struggle with difficulty in asking for help when needed.
Cross said the program made them feel more normal, and it gave them the opportunity to talk with other caregivers who were dealing with a similar situation. One caregiver stated that she was able to really connect with her mother through touch and eye contact. “It was like soul traveling,” she said.
Positive Effects of Music That Went Beyond the Events
The positive effects of the symphony tended to extend beyond the events. Cross said that the “positive effect on participants’ mood began days before each performance in anticipation of the upcoming event.” She also stated that even participants with severe dementia remembered something important to them had happened the night before.
Cross said, “participants were able to create new memories at a time when they were losing the ability to share memories from the past.”=
Read more about the B Sharp Program study and its results online. While the study was small (30 participants), and it wasn’t a randomized controlled study, it did offer information that could lead to future studies about the positive effects of music on cognition in those with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
As a caregiver of a loved one who is suffering from dementia, you can use music to improve his or her mood, calm agitation and restore a sense of joy that can last for hours after the music has stopped. Here are some tips on how to select the best music for those with early-stage dementia.