Health in Harmony: The Therapeutic Benefits of Music in Aging and Dementia

9:30am-12:30pm, Jan 30, 2021

Zoom conference


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Using music therapy to support those with moderate Alzheimer Disease: Outcomes of a clinical trial of group/caregiver and individual sessions in an outpatient setting

Dr. Kevin Kirkland, Dr. Susan Summers, Alex Hauka
Capilano University, Music Therapy Dept.


This presentation will discuss emerging music therapy approaches and the development of an assessment tool based on a clinical trial of music therapy techniques for persons with dementia and their caregivers.


Dr. Kevin Kirkland, PhD, FAMI, MTA
Certified Music Therapist
Capilano University

Kevin Kirkland is a certified music therapist who teaches part time on faculty in the music therapy program at Capilano University. He is also a staff music therapist at the Burnaby Centre for Mental Health & Addiction where he provides programming for groups and individual who have concurrent disorders. His doctoral work focused on trauma and the creative arts. He has been a member of the UBC research team for the past decade and is currently pursuing research on addiction and adverse childhood experiences.

Dr. Susan Summers, PhD, MTA
Certified Music Therapist and Vocal Psychotherapist
Capilano University

Susan Summers, PhD, MTA is a certified music therapist and vocal psychotherapist who has been passionate about her work with older adults and those at end-of-life care for over three decades. She teaches in the music therapy department at Capilano University, serves on several professional association boards, and is in private practice. Her graduate work research focused on the healing and therapeutic use of voice. She has been a member of the UBC research team for ten years with an interest in music therapy clinical practice with seniors with dementia.

Alex Hauka
Alex Hauka is a classically trained cellist and former music therapy student at Capilano University. While a student there, he was selected for the role of research assistant by Dr. Kirkland and Dr. Summers, contributing to data analysis. He remains an advocate of Music Therapy and its clinical impact on those whose lives have been affected by Alzheimer’s Disease.


Music Therapy in Alzheimer Disease: a randomized controlled trial

Dr. Robin Hsuing
UBC Neurology, Dept. of Medicine


Alzheimer Disease (AD) is common, representing about 64% of all dementias in Canada. In addition to memory problems, AD patients often develop psychological and behavioural symptoms such as depression, agitation, anxiety, and aggression that make their management difficult. These symptoms also increase caregiver stress and burden. It is known that difficult behavioural symptoms in AD patients and high level of caregiver burden are both predictors of nursing home placement. Therefore, if these symptoms can be minimized, we may delay long-term care placement and improve quality of life for the patients and their caregivers. Music therapy (MT) is a safe and low-cost intervention that has been applied in residential care settings. We conducted a randomized controlled trial of a 12-week MT intervention in patients with moderate Alzheimer Disease in an out-patient setting to objectively assess the benefits in behaviour, memory function, and quality of life. We found a significant drop in the Neuropsychiatric Inventory after MT (-2.6) compared to an increase during the waiting period (+5.9, p=0.037), but no significant differences in the Clinical Global Impression of Change (P=0.23). There was also a significant lowering of morning salivary cortisol level (-0.15 ug/dL) during MT compared to the waiting period (+2.7, 0.039). No significant differences were observed in other scales including the ADAS-Cog, CMAI, GDS, or QOL-AD for the subject or the caregiver. There is a significant sequence effect, suggesting some carry-over benefits in the immediate group compared to the delay-start group. These findings suggest that MT has beneficial effect on managing behavioural symptoms in patients with AD and decreasing stress as measured by morning cortisol level. It can be a safe alternative to pharmacological treatment in managing AD patients with behavioural symptoms.


Dr. Ging-Yuek Robin Hsiung, MD MHSc
Associate Professor in the Division of Neurology
Department of Medicine; Neurologist
Clinic for Alzheimer and Related Disorders

Dr. Hsiung is Associate Professor in the Division of Neurology, Department of Medicine, University of British Columbia, and staff neurologist at the UBC Hospital Clinic for Alzheimer and Related Disorders and St. Paul's Hospital. His research interests include Clinical and Genetic Epidemiology of Alzheimer Disease and related neurodegenerative dementias, neuropsychological characteristics of cognitive disorders, imaging and biomarkers of dementia, as well as translational research on neurological health and aging.


Comparing the effectiveness in reducing agitated behaviours of persons with dementia using passive music listening versus music therapy interventions

Camilla Schroeder
Berkley Care Centre, Music Therapist


This presentation will reveal the process and outcomes from a research project completed at Berkley Care Centre. With funding from a Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute Grant, the support of the manager and interdisciplinary team, and the mentorship of Susan Summers, Camilla chose to embark on a quantitative study over ten weeks in the fall of 2018.  


Camilla Schroeder, MTA
Certified music therapist, Berkley Care Centre
Camilla Schroeder is a certified music therapist (MTA) who works as a music therapist in long-term care, supervises practicum and internship students regularly, and has contributed to the profession as a board member with the MTABC. At Capilano University, Camilla completed her jazz diploma in 2001 and her Bachelor of Music Therapy degree in 2004. She also teaches Guitar Private Music Instruction in the Music Therapy program at Capilano University.



Singing for Change: The Impact of a Dementia Choir on Inclusion, Well-being and Quality of Life 

Dr. Debra Sheets
University of Victoria, Voices in Motion


Background: Stigma represents a significant barrier to living with dignity following a dementia diagnosis. About half of older adults with dementia would not want others to know. Stigma contributes to social isolation as roles, friendships and opportunities to participate in the broader community disappear. Social isolation poses health risks comparable to being sedentary, smoking 15 cigarettes a day or being obese (Holt-Lunstad, Smith, Baker, Harris & Stephenson, 2015). Music-based approaches to dementia are one way to shift attention from disease-related declines and losses toward social inclusion and supporting quality of life. The Voices in Motion choir was not conceptualized as therapeutic although it clearly has positive health-related impacts.  It is intended as an arts-based, high-quality music participation program—designed to foster intergenerational relationships and provide a context in which the focus is not on dementia per se, but rather on learning, contributing to a purposeful community, and experiencing joy in the creative process.

Method: Persons with dementia (PwD) (n = 32), in partnership with their family caregivers (n=32) and local high school students (n=29), sang in a professionally conducted choir for as many as three seasons (~ 12 weeks long) spanning up to 18 months of follow-up. Assessments of psychosocial, physiological, and cognitive function were completed every four to six weeks as part of an intensive repeated measures design using mixed methods as well.

Results: Findings indicate that choir participation has important and significant impacts on psychosocial well-being and quality of life for both PwD. Both caregivers and PwD experienced reductions in health risks and improvements in quality of life. Students’ ability to communicate with older adults and their understanding of empathy for dementia increased over time.

Conclusion: The numbers of people with dementia will nearly double in the next decade. There is an urgency to shift approaches to dementia from treatment to supportive and inclusive programs, such as choral singing, that foster social inclusion, decrease risk for depression, reduce caregiver distress, and allow those living with dementia to reach their full potential.


Debra Sheets, Ph.D., MSN, RN, FAAN
Dr. Sheets is a Professor in the School of Nursing, at the University of Victoria (UVic). She is an elected fellow of the American Academy of Nursing, the Gerontological Society of America and the Association for Gerontology in Higher Education (AGHE). Her research interests focus on gerontology and geriatric nursing—and in particular dementia and caregiving, technology in home care, and creativity and aging. Dr. Sheets is one of the lead researchers for the Voices in Motion Choir—an intergenerational community-based choir for people with dementia and their family caregiver that is reducing social isolation and the stigma of dementia.


Investigating the effects of music, music therapy, and literature on mood and mental health in older adults experiencing mild cognitive decline: A summary of our research methodology

Dr. Theresa Comazzi
Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory


Theresa Camozzi, BSc ND
Dr. Theresa Camozzi is Master’s graduate student in UBC’s Neuroscience Graduate Program in Prof. Adele Diamond’s Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory. She’s currently working on the Power of the Arts Study. This project asks the question of how listening to music alone on a music player as an intervention compares to socially-shared music with a certified music therapist when it comes to improving mood and cognitive functioning of adults 45 and older. It also compares the effects of listening to music with listening to beloved literature to see if there is something special about music vs the spoken word.