Effect of Music Therapy on Anxiety and Depression in Alzheimer’s Patients

Various studies have highlighted the significance of music therapy in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. The aim of this study was to assess the effect of a new type of music therapy, on the depression and anxiety levels in patients with less severe Alzheimer-type dementia. The study was performed on a group of 30 patients, half of whom had weekly sessions of music therapy for 24 weeks. At the end of the study, significant improvement was seen in the anxiety and depression levels of those who went through the music sessions.

The incidence of Alzheimer’s disease is currently 24.3 million, with at least 4.6 million new cases being reported each year. Every twenty years, the number of cases doubles. The most common type of this disease is the Alzheimer’s type dementia (AD). Unfortunately, only half the number of patients are diagnosed and a mere one-third of these receive treatment. Depression and anxiety are the earliest effects of this disease. The importance and potential effects of music, in the treatment of mild cases of Alzheimer’s disease, have been known for long. Music therapy could either be “listening-based”, called receptive therapy, or “playing-based”, called active therapy. This mode of therapy, similar to hypnosis or relaxation, is used in the treatment of anxiety, depression and other disorders. Personalized music based on personal experiences could stimulate the memory of the patient by evoking emotional responses, and help in the treatment of Alzheimer’s, to a large extent. This study evaluates the use of long and short-term personalized music therapy and its relaxing effect on patients with Alzheimer’s disease.


  • Thirty participants aged 70 to 90, with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease, were studied.
  • The participants were grouped into two different sets, one that received music therapy and another that did not. All patients in the music therapy group chose their genre of music, which was then played in their rooms at the hospital. The parameters of music such as the musical rhythm, orchestral formation, frequency and volume, called the U-sequence, were varied.
  • The anxiety and depression levels of the patients were evaluated after the music sessions, once at the beginning of the study, and then at weeks 4, 8, 16 and 24.


  • The anxiety score was 22 in both the groups, prior to the study. There was a gradual reduction to 15, 12 and eight in weeks four, eight and 16 respectively, in the group that received music therapy. The results were quite similar, though, in those who did not receive music therapy.
  • At the end of 16 weeks, depression scores reduced from 16 to 8 in those who received music therapy. It remained at 11 for those who did not receive the therapy. This effect sustained for two months, even after stopping the therapy.

Shortcomings/Next steps
The mechanism of such drastic changes in the anxiety and depression levels of patients with Alzheimer’s disease has not been explained satisfactorily in this study. The authors suggest more in-depth studies on this aspect, using MRI and PET scans, to help elucidate the actual mechanism of the relaxing effect of music therapy on the patients.

This study confirms the positive effects of music therapy on anxiety and depression, commonly associated with patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. While most other studies focused on music therapy in general, this study highlighted the effects of personalized music, based on the patient’s preferences. The music was chosen by the patients themselves, and it reflected their emotions. At the end of this study, most patients commented that they had a recall of a few past memories while listening to the music. This mode of therapy could act by modifying the sensory, cognitive and behavioral responses of the patients, enabling them to recollect their past.

For more information:
Effect of Music Therapy on Anxiety and Depression in Patients with Alzheimer’s Type Dementia: Randomised, Controlled Study
Publication Journal: Journal of Dementia and Geriatric Cognitive Disorders, July 2009
By S. Guétin; F. Portet
From the Centre Mémoire de Ressources et de Recherches, Montpellier, France, and Université Paris, Paris, France

FYI Living Lab Reports are a summary of the original report.


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