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In older people with cognitive impairment or mild or moderate dementia, active music-making therapy improves cognitive functioning by a small amount

Dorris JL, Neely S, Terhorst L, et al. Effects of music participation for mild cognitive impairment and dementia: A systematic review and meta-analysis. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2021 Sep;69(9):2659-67.

Review question

In older people who have probable cognitive (thinking) impairment or mild or moderate dementia, does active music-making therapy improve cognitive functioning and emotional well-being?

Background

Cognitive impairment and dementia are common in older adults. Progression of cognitive impairment and dementia may be reduced by exposing the brain to challenging mental activities. Active music-making may stimulate the brain, but it is not known whether it can help improve cognitive functioning.

How the review was done

The researchers did a systematic review of studies available up to March 2021. They found 21 randomized controlled trials that included a total of 1471 people.

Key features of the studies were:

  • people were 65 years of age or older, with an average age between 69 to 88 years;
  • people had mild cognitive impairment, probable dementia, mild or moderate dementia, or mild or moderate Alzheimer disease (people with severe dementia were excluded);
  • active music-making therapies included rhythm-music and improvisation, reacting to a sound (e.g. hearing a drum) by clapping, singing, music therapy with gross and fine motor movements, playing percussion instruments, or music integrated with exercise;
  • active music-making therapies were delivered by professionals;
  • active music-making therapy sessions were 30 minutes to 2 hours long, 1 to 5 times per week for 4 to 40 weeks; and
  • active music-making therapy was compared with usual care, medications, health education, listening to music, gymnastics, non-musical cognitive tasks or training, walking exercises, dance, self-directed activities, reading, yoga, or painting.

What the researchers found

Compared with control, active music-making therapy:

  • improved global cognition (overall thinking) by a small amount; and
  • did not clearly affect quality of life, mood, depression, or anxiety.

Conclusion

In older people with probable cognitive impairment or mild or moderate dementia, active music-making therapy improves cognitive functioning by a small amount.

Effect of active music-making therapy vs control in older people with cognitive impairment or dementia*

Outcomes

Number of studies (number of patients)

Effect of active music-making therapy

Cognitive functioning (overall thinking)

9 studies (495 patients)

Active music-making therapy improved global cognition by a small amount.

*Only the outcome that was clearly affected by active music-making therapy is reported here.



Related Topics


Glossary

Cognitive function
Mental processes, including thinking, learning and remembering.
Cognitive impairment
Trouble remembering, learning new things, concentrating, or making decisions that affect everyday life.
Randomized controlled trials
Studies where people are assigned to one of the treatments purely by chance.
Systematic review
A comprehensive evaluation of the available research evidence on a particular topic.

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