Written by Josephine Chen '24
Edited by Saradha Miriyala '23
Music therapy, a psychological treatment involving music as a mode of interaction and conveying emotions, has been demonstrated to improve the quality of life for people with mental disorders. This treatment has shown to decrease symptoms of depression, schizophrenia, and dementia in clinical settings. Still, studies are being conducted to evaluate the feasibility of incorporating music therapy into the treatment of mental disorders.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, characterized by nerve death, tissue loss, and brain size reduction. It is also distinguished by the formation of beta-amyloid plaques in the brain. Affected patients will have trouble learning, remembering past events, speaking, and understanding words .
A study conducted in 2009 supported the practicality of music therapy for treating Alzheimer’s patients. In this study, the treatment groups each received music sessions every week in their preferred music style . The researchers discovered that patients who received music therapy showed improvements in associated anxiety and depression symptoms from week 4 until week 16 of treatment . These effects were long-term, lasting about 8 weeks after the last weekly music session at week 16 .
Other studies have revealed that playing music can improve the cognitive areas in the brain responsible for memory, speech, and learning . This may be because prolonged exposure to music can activate neuroplasticity in the brain, which allows the brain to develop new connections and reorganize nerves to counterbalance the pathology of disease [3,4]. Music therapy can also trigger the brain’s limbic system, which regulates memories and emotions . These positive effects can be linked to how music brings attention to different sounds, words, and rhythms, which in turn can stimulate various areas of the brain .
These positive effects of music therapy are not limited to dementia. A study was conducted to determine how music therapy should be added to standard care to treat depression in working adults. One group of patients diagnosed with depression received a combination of standard care and music therapy, while the other group of patients received only standard care . The combination of the two therapies was found to be significantly more effective in improving symptoms and the general function of patients .
To determine the satisfaction and efficacy of the implementation of music therapy in a clinical setting, the Cleveland Clinic Foundation partnered with The Cleveland Music School Settlement to incorporate music therapy in the hospital’s palliative inpatient ward. The surveyed patients and families mostly have positive verbal responses to the music, and many actively participated in the sessions . The music visibly relaxed the patients and their families . Further, the staff were satisfied with the services given in reducing stress and anxiety in patients . Considering the positive outcomes of this study, music therapy can be used to provide efficient and high quality care when integrated in a hospital setting.
Music therapy is versatile and effective for patients with mental disorders, as it has been found to be able to stimulate positive, long-term effects while decreasing symptoms of illness in patients. More research should be done to discover how hospitals and clinics can properly fuse standard treatment with music therapy to provide the utmost quality of care to patients.
 What is Alzheimer’s Disease? Symptoms & Causes | alz.org [Internet]. [cited 2021 Apr 12]. Available from: https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/what-is-alzheimers/brain_tour_part_2
 Guétin S, Portet F, Picot MC, Pommié C, Messaoudi M, Djabelkir L, et al. Effect of Music Therapy on Anxiety and Depression in Patients with Alzheimer’s Type Dementia: Randomised, Controlled Study. Dementia and Geriatric Cognitive Disorders. 2009;28(1):36–46.
 Moreno-Morales C, Calero R, Moreno-Morales P, Pintado C. Music Therapy in the Treatment of Dementia: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Front Med (Lausanne) [Internet]. 2020 May 19 [cited 2021 Apr 12];7. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7248378/
 Neuroplasticity - an overview | ScienceDirect Topics [Internet]. [cited 2021 Apr 12]. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/neuroplasticity
 Erkkilä J, Punkanen M, Fachner J, Ala-Ruona E, Pöntiö I, Tervaniemi M, et al. Individual music therapy for depression: randomised controlled trial. British Journal of Psychiatry. 2018/01/02 ed. 2011;199(2):132–9.
 Gallagher LM, Huston MJ, Nelson KA, Walsh D, Steele A. Music therapy in palliative medicine. Supportive Care in Cancer. 2001 May 1;9(3):156–61.
[Image Citation] Music Therapy | UK HealthCare [Internet]. [cited 2021 Apr 27]. Available from: https://ukhealthcare.uky.edu/integrative-medicine-health/services/music-therapy