SOURCE: Clements-Cortes A, Bartel L. Sound stimulation in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Annals Long-Term Care 2015;23:10-16.

Music therapy can be a helpful and pleasurable experience for patients with Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Although clinical trials on the subject are not large or plentiful, the favorable results obtained appear promising. For instance, one clinical trial looked at the impact of music therapy among persons with agitation and AD. A 45-minute session of music therapy reduced agitated and disruptive behaviors (like swearing or yelling). Whether music therapy provides long-term benefits has not been well studied.

For most, if not all of us, music has deep-rooted emotional links. Background music has been shown to improve cognitive performance throughout the adult lifespan, including college students, older adults, and patients with AD. Interestingly, those brain areas responsible for processing music are commonly preserved in patients with AD, despite their loss of other cognitive functions. At a less macroscopic level, exposure to music has been shown to increase levels of IgA and decrease cortisol.

Whether clinicians want to consider supporting the use of recreational environmental music (simple background music for patients) or the formal structure of music therapy provided by a trained therapist, music may provide meaningful clinical improvements in AD patients, as well as an enhanced quality of life.