Music Therapy for Service Users With Dementia: A Critical Review of the Literature

R. Blackburn
T. Bradshaw


Dementia is an organic mental health problem that has been estimated to affect over 23 million people worldwide. With increasing life expectancy in most countries, it has been estimated that the prevalence of dementia will continue to significantly increase in the next two decades. Dementia leads to cognitive impairments most notably short-term memory loss and impairments in functioning and quality of life (QOL). National policy in the UK advocates the importance of early diagnosis, treatment and social inclusion in maintaining a good QOL. First-line treatment options often involve drug therapies aimed at slowing down the progression of the illness and antipsychotic medication to address challenging behaviours. To date, research into non-pharmacological interventions has been limited. In this manuscript, we review the literature that has reported evaluations of the effects of music therapy, a non-pharmacological intervention. The results of six studies reviewed suggest that music therapy may have potential benefits in reducing anxiety, depression and agitated behaviour displayed by elderly people with dementia as well as improving cognitive functioning and QOL. Furthermore, music therapy is a safe and low-cost intervention that could potentially be offered by mental health nurses and other carers working in residential settings.