Health & Lifestyle

Singing can calm agitation suffered by dementia sufferers, new NHS trial has found 

Singing can calm agitation suffered by about 90 per cent of dementia sufferers, new NHS trial has found

  • Some 90 per cent of the UK’s one million dementia patients experience agitation
  • Researchers at Anglia Ruskin University found making music calms behaviour

Singing songs and banging a drum can help tackle one of the most challenging symptoms of dementia, a groundbreaking NHS trial has found.

As well as memory problems and confusion, about 90 per cent of the one million dementia patients in the UK experience agitation – which includes episodes of shouting, pushing and spitting.

This is because the brain damage caused by the disease can make sufferers aggressive and prone to violent and destructive behaviour.

But researchers at Anglia Ruskin University found helping them to create music and sing slashed incidents of agitation by three quarters.

Patients on two dementia wards at Cambridge and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust engaged in weekly music therapy for 14 weeks – which involved singing to familiar songs and playing percussion instruments.

Researchers at Anglia Ruskin University found helping dementia patients to create music and sing slashed incidents of agitation by three quarters

Researchers at Anglia Ruskin University found helping dementia patients to create music and sing slashed incidents of agitation by three quarters

The sessions were led by a trained dementia therapist, and researchers found that agitation occurred on fewer than one in ten music therapy days, compared with one in three without it.

Now a major pilot is set to be launched by the same Trust to offer dementia patients regular music therapy. Experts involved believe it could help lower the number of dementia patients who have to take powerful sedative drugs to ease their distress.

‘Calming medications are often given to a person with dementia when distressed, but this is far from ideal as research suggests that sedatives increase the risks of falls and death,’ says Dr Ming Hung Hsu, senior research fellow at Anglia Ruskin University and chief investigator of the trial.

‘These results provide us with a platform to explore ways to use music therapy to better meet patients’ needs on inpatient mental health dementia wards.’

About one in four NHS hospital beds are occupied by dementia patients, and studies show that distress or agitation events occur on dementia wards, on average, 120 days a year and can impact patients’ treatment as well as staff wellbeing.

‘Agitation can be very distressing for patients, families and staff, and current interventions are limited,’ says Dr Ben Underwood, research and development director at Cambridge and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust.

‘All the early evidence suggests that music might be a powerful and enjoyable tool. I am very excited to see this work progressing.’

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