Previous research has found that therapy offered by professional music therapists reduce behavioral and psychological symptoms in people with dementia. Trained home-based caregivers don’t achieve the same results, a new study finds. 

Researchers wanted to see if therapists could teach family caregivers to implement music therapy. When trained home-based caregivers delivered it, the home music therapy didn’t improve symptoms in the long term, according to a new report published in eClinicalMedicine.

Home caregivers received training on music from music therapists. Others were put into a group centered on reading. The caregivers implemented five 30-minute reading or music activities each week, having to commit to at least two a week. 

The researchers randomized 432 caregiver and patient pairs. Of all of them, 143 were put in the music group, 144 were assigned to reading and 145 had the usual care (without reading or music). The music program involved listening to music, singing, movement and playing instruments. Caregivers and the people they cared for were from Australia, Germany, Poland, Norway and the UK.

Then researchers used Neuropsychiatric Inventory-Questionnaire (NPI-Q) to evaluate symptoms at 90 days and 180 days. There weren’t statistically important differences in symptoms regardless of which group people were put in, though no adverse events occurred.

There were some short-term positive effects, caregivers reported. Severe symptoms and vascular dementia patients were more responsive to the music program facilitated by the caregivers. Reading was superior at lowering caregiver distress and increased caregiver resilience, though it didn’t improve quality of life compared to people in the usual care group.

“Our findings suggested that music interventions and reading interventions delivered by trained caregivers in community contexts do not decrease enduring behavioral and psychological symptoms,” the authors wrote.

“With the global focus on enabling people with dementia to live at home, feasible and acceptable non-pharmacological approaches that family caregivers can safely implement are needed,” according to the authors. 

“Family caregivers may not be as effective as trained music therapists at providing music interventions targeting behavioral and psychological symptoms, or require more than three training sessions and more support from a music therapist to be sufficiently skilled in music use to effect change,” the authors added.