Music‐based therapeutic interventions for people with dementia.

BACKGROUND: People with dementia gradually develop difficulties with memory, thinking, language and daily activities. Dementia is often associated with emotional and behavioural problems and may decrease a person's quality of life. In the later stages of dementia it may be difficult for people to communicate with words, but even when they can no longer speak they may still be able to hum or play along with music. Therapy involving music may therefore be especially suitable for people with dementia. Music therapists are specially qualified to work with individuals or groups of people, using music to try to help meet their physical, psychological and social needs. Other professionals may also be trained to provide similar treatments.

PURPOSE OF THIS REVIEW: We wanted to see if we could find evidence that treatments based on music improve the emotional well‐being and quality of life of people with dementia. We were also interested in evidence about effects on emotional, behavioural, social or cognitive (e.g. thinking and remembering) problems in people with dementia.

WHAT WE DID: We searched for clinical trials that measured these effects and in which people with dementia were randomly allocated to a music‐based treatment or to a comparison group. The comparison groups might have had no special treatment, or might have been offered a different activity. We required at least five sessions of treatment because we thought fewer sessions than five were unlikely to have much effect. We combined results of trials to estimate the effect of the treatment as accurately as possible. The evidence is current to 19 June 2017.

WHAT WE FOUND: We found 22 trials to include in the review and we were able to combine results for at least some outcomes from 890 people. All of the people in the trials stayed in nursing homes or hospitals. Some trials compared music‐based treatments with usual care, and some compared them with other activities, such as cooking or painting. The quality of the trials and how well they were reported varied, and this affected our confidence in the results. First, we looked at outcomes immediately after a course of therapy ended. From our results, we could be moderately confident that music‐based treatments improve symptoms of depression and overall behavioural problems, but not specifically agitated or aggressive behaviour. They may also improve anxiety and emotional well‐being including quality of life, although we were less confident about these results. They may have little or no effect on cognition. We had very little confidence in our results on social interaction. Some studies also looked to see whether there were any lasting effects four weeks or more after treatment ended. However, there were few data and we were uncertain or very uncertain about the results. Further trials are likely to have a significant impact on what we know about the effects of music‐based treatments for people with dementia, so continuing research is important.