The Impact of Music Therapy on Language Functioning in Dementia


Journal of Music Therapy




Dementias, such as Alzheimer's disease, include a progressive deterioration of language functioning. While some researchers have reported an increase in patients' self-expression following music therapy, it is not clear whether these changes specifically reflect improved language skills or whether simple interpersonal interaction with a therapist could account for the improvement. In this study, the effects of music therapy were compared to conversational sessions on language functioning in dementia patients. Participants were selected according to the following criteria: (a) residing in a facility specializing in Alzheimer's and related disorders; (b) possessing sufficient verbal ability to answer simple questions and to comply with requests to speak, participate, or sit down; and (c) attaining the written consent of the patient's guardian or representative. All participants had been in music therapy twice per week for at least 3 months prior to the study onset. One week prior to the beginning of the study, subjects were assessed for cognitive functioning using the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE), and language ability via the Western Aphasia Battery (WAB). A within-subjects design was used, with order of condition (music or group conversation first) counter-balanced between participants. Subjects participated in groups of 2 to 4, twice per week for 20-30 minutes for a total of 8 sessions (4 music therapy and 4 conversation sessions or vice-versa), and were re-tested on the WAB at the end of each 2 week (4 session) interval. Results from 20 participants revealed that music therapy significantly improved performance on both speech content and fluency dimensions of the spontaneous speech subscale of the WAB (p =.01). While the difference in overall Aphasia Quotient (AQ) for music and conversation sessions (mean AQ = 76 vs. 70, respectively) did not reach statistical significance, data were only available for 10 participants (5 per condition). Hopefully, these findings will stimulate additional research on the use of music therapy interventions with demented patients, as it may offer a noninvasive mechanism to enhance communication between victims and their caregivers.

Music and Health Institute Terms

Alzheimer's and Related Dementias; Cognitive Abilities; Long-Term Care Facility; Music Therapy; Neurodegenerative Disorders

Indexed Terms

Elderly; Elderly; Alzheimer Disease; Analysis of Variance; Dementia; Homes for the Aged; Inpatients; Language Disorders; Language Tests; Nursing Homes; Oregon; Speech

Study Type

Quasi-Experimental Study; Quantitative Methods

PubMed ID


Document Type