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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.
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?
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.
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*
Cognitive functioning (overall thinking)
9 studies (495 patients)
Active music-making therapy improved global cognition by a small amount.
Mental processes, including thinking, learning and remembering.
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.
A comprehensive evaluation of the available research evidence on a particular topic.
Related Evidence Summaries
Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (2019)
American Journal of Alzheimers Diseases and Other Dementias (2018)
Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (2014)
Related Web Resources
Informed Health Online
Gingko supplements (240 mg per day) may help reduce symptoms of Alzheimer's disease and enable you to perform daily tasks better. Be aware that gingko could interact with other medications, so talk to your doctor before taking any supplements.
Dementia affects millions of people around the world, and there is no current treatment. There are a few ways to lower your risk. Eat a well-balanced diet, exercise, stay social, and limit alcohol and smoking.
Canadian Institute for Health Information
Older adults with dementia may need to move into long-term care homes if they can no longer stay at home. These people have higher risk of getting physically restrained or given antipsychotic medication. Changes to policy and education have made these things happen less often.
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