Tautenschilager, Nicola T. “Top Cited Papers in International Psychogeriatrics: 4. Effects of individualized vs classical ‘relaxation’ music on the frequency of agitation in elderly persons with Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders.” International Psychogeriatrics (2009), 21:4, 667-671.
This article is largely based on research by L.A. Gerdner. While working in a long term care facility the writer observed frequent agitation in elderly people suffering from dementia. This problem is quite widespread and has negative effects on patients and caregivers. During the 1980’s most of the research on dementia involved drug treatments. After enrolling in graduate school the writer found that personalized music could be effectively used to treat agitation. This treatment is particularly favorable since it is relatively easy to implement in a facility and is inexpensive. Personalized music is based on the patient’s experience and taste, unlike classical “relaxation” music. Cognitive impairment, a symptom of dementia, is a “decreased ability to receive and process stimuli resulting in the progressive decline in a patient’s stress threshold” (Tautenschilager 667). Music can be used to communicate with patients who are unable to understand language and do not process stimuli. Personalized music can stimulate memories and can override excessive stimuli that patients are unable to interpret. Thus, the music creates a calming effect. A series of questions called an “Assessment of Personal Music Preference” is filled by either the patient or close relative so that care takers can select music for treatment. In trials personalized music has been played at regular intervals and before expected agitation. Patients have shown a significant improvement in mood and are more communicative. Tools like the Cohen-Mansﬁeld Agitation Inventory an are used to measure agitation. More concrete research needs to be gathered on individualized music treatment, however it is a field that is full promise.
I really enjoyed reading this article. My grandfather suffered from Alzheimer’s so I have witnessed the challenges this disease presents. I am very aware that it is not only the patient who suffers, but their caretakers as well. Agitation in seniors, particularly those suffering from dementia is difficult to deal with. Unfortunately elder abuse is very common. I am not surprised that personalized music can connect to distant memories and help ease agitation. I often listen to a favorite song to relax or elevate my mood when I’m feeling lethargic. The personalized music approach is unique, because it addresses the individuality of the patient. Some patients may like the rock n roll they heard during their youth while others prefer Barber’s Adagio. In her commentary on the article Lautenschlager notes, “Never lose sight of the essential questions: who is the person suffering from BPSD and what life has he or she lived?” Levels of agitation and overall mood are difficult to quantify, so I understand why people maybe skeptical about this treatment. However, I think the benefits of individualized music therapy outweigh the potential flaws of the treatment. From my own experience volunteering at long term care facilities I have observed that music improves patients’ overall mood. Also, the treatment is relatively inexpensive, it does not require a lot of additional training and can be administered by a trained nurse or a family member.