From Antipsychotics to iPods: The Changing Face of Dementia Treatment

Long-term care resident surveys show that some 70% of dementia patients living in nursing homes exhibit significant psychological or behavioral problems.

For years, those symptoms were treated with difficult antipsychotic drug regiments. Today, in a more enlightened age, antipsychotics have fallen into disfavor as a first-line dementia treatment and are less commonly prescribed (though many residents are still on them).

Now, researchers at UC Davis are ready to test a new theory that music might be more effective than antipsychotics in treating the symptoms of advancing dementia.

A number of studies in recent years have hinted at music’s effectiveness in improving the quality-of-life experience for dementia patients. There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence too. Several assisted living facilities have staffed professional musicians to great effect, and scores of families report that music is the only thing their loved ones still remember or respond to.

Now, researchers are ready to put it to the test. Over the next three years, the Improving Dementia Care through Music & Memory project, executed in partnership with the California Association of Health Facilities, will “re-introduce nursing home residents to their favorite, personalized music to improve their day-to-day life and determine if familiar tunes can reduce the need for medication and improve their quality of life.”

It will be the first comprehensive study to test the findings of those smaller, short-term reports.

Experts hope that the results will open a new chapter in dementia care, one less dependent on intensive medications and more reliant on the magic of music.