Regular concerts of orchestral music performed to people living with dementia has led to significant positive behavioural changes among patients.
Preliminary findings from a pilot program undertaken by musicians from the Canberra Symphony Orchestra found dementia patients who listened to the performances had a reduction in disruptive behaviours.
The Music and Memory program took place during eight weeks for dementia patients at Goodwin Village in Ainslie, with a half-hour concert being performed twice a week by two musicians.
The pieces were chosen by the dementia patients and included many familiar songs from decades past.
As a result of the program, those with dementia who took part had a significant reduction in physical and verbal aggression.
Patients were less likely to hoard or hide objects and were less agitated at the end of the day and weren’t as restless at night.
The program’s curator and orchestra bassoonist Kristen Sutcliffe said the findings surpassed expectations.
“We’ve been delighted with the program. It’s gone well in these challenging times with coronavirus to be able to go ahead and get significant findings,” Ms Sutcliffe said.
“We saw some beautiful changes in behaviour among the participants and what struck me the most from being in the concerts was seeing this amazing wave of relaxation come over them when the music started.”
Due to coronavirus restrictions, the start of the program was delayed and participant numbers were capped at 10.
Carers and aged care staff were surveyed about patient behaviour at the beginning, middle and end of the eight-week program.
Ms Sutcliffe said the music had a measurable effect on the mood of those living with dementia, even triggering memories from decades ago.
“One of the participants was quite agitated when she came into the concerts and said that she wanted to go back at first,” Ms Sutcliffe said.
“As soon as the music started, however, she became relaxed and her toes started tapping.
“It ended up she had a very musical background and the performances brought back the memories of her musical upbringing and seeing that stark contrast to her mood was fantastic.”
The two musicians who performed for the participants were rotated regularly throughout the program and included violin, cello and French horn players.
One of the musicians who took part was violinist Tim Wickham, who said the performances were very close to his musical roots.
“My dad was an aged-care specialist and I remember doing similar performances for my own practice when I was younger,” Mr Wickham said.
“I remember seeing the effect music had on people and I jumped at the chance to be part of the program.
“During COVID, when all concerts have been postponed, I saw this as an opportunity to play some music and all for a good cause.”
Ms Sutcliffe said after the success of the Music and Memory program, she hoped it would be able to expand.
“Goodwin have said they’re keen to have it continue and we would love to make it accessible around Canberra and we’ve had interest from interstate as well,” she said.