Music Therapy and Dementia Research
By the year 2050, 14 million Americans are expected to live with the devastation of Alzheimer's disease. Women have a 20% lifetime risk of developing this disease. At present, no drug can cure, slow the progression of, or effectively mediate symptoms of Alzheimer’s or other dementias. As these individuals experience declines in memory and communication, they become increasingly dependent on others to complete basic daily tasks. Disease symptoms compromise social initiative, autonomy, and quality of life. As the disease progresses, playing a game of checkers, reading a book, and following television programs become impossible.
Music Therapy Offers Hope
In the context of much decline, these individuals’ ability to engage with music appears relatively well-preserved. Emerging research suggests that clinical music therapy may particularly offer psychosocial benefits. In music therapy, a board-certified music therapist uses various individualized, systematically adapted, live music activities to promote social engagement, facilitate mood regulation, and improve quality of life for these individuals. In other words, music therapy may offer opportunities for people who have experienced significant loss of autonomy to exhibit self-efficacy, engage with others in an age-appropriate and socially-normalized way, and be successful.
Research regarding the use and appropriate application of music therapy with this population is emerging, but unclear. Insufficient evidence is both a barrier for patients and their families to access a potentially helpful and meaningful treatment option and a limitation to informing best treatment practices.
Alaine Reschke-Hernandez, a doctoral candidate in the School of Music at the University of Iowa, is conducting a community-based study to systematically examine how music therapy might help nursing home residents with advanced Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. This research involves testing a conceptual framework and a specific music therapy intervention protocol. Residents with dementia at 5 Iowa City area nursing homes will directly benefit from the music therapy services they receive as participants in this research. Five area music therapists and 6 university students are helping to execute the study. Results are expected to help improve patient services, inform interdisciplinary work between music therapists and other healthcare professionals, and increase patients’ access to music therapy services.
Alaine’s 15 years of clinical experience, extensive music background, and joy of working with people were poured into this doctoral thesis study. However, this ambitious project would not have come to fruition without the education, support, and encouragement of professors, students, colleagues, friends, and family. Her team represents those who have helped make this project possible. Supporting this research is a fun way to safely invest in research that can make a difference in people’s lives. Your generosity will support the final phase of nearly 3 years of project development, which included scoping literature review, pilot testing, and input from experts in experimental design, neuropsychology, nursing, and music therapy.
Thank you for considering any level of contribution to this project!
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