A music therapy respite program for caregivers of individuals with memory loss

Author(s): Wellman, B.

Published In: Music Therapy Perspectives, 39 (1): 17-23. (2020)

Study Aim/Purpose: This study aimed to describe the benefits of participation in a community-based drop-in music therapy program (Music Therapy Respite) offered weekly from April – July 2018 to adults ages 64 to 91 with memory loss.

Summary of Methods: Researchers collected 128 total survey responses over 23 sessions in a four- month period. The respondents were all unpaid family caregivers, including spouses, children and siblings ranging in age from 45 to 90, for individuals with memory loss. The caregivers each received an 8-item survey when they came to pick up their family member at the conclusion of the music therapy classes. The survey was anonymous and brief, with one question to indicate whether they had participated in a support group that day, one question to rate their overall experience that day on a 5-point scale, and six items asking whether there had been improvement, worsening, or no change in stress, anxiety, or mood (as defined by respondents) of either the caregiver or care recipient.

Summary of Results:  Survey results indicated that the large majority of caregivers felt that stress and anxiety decreased and mood improved for both caregivers and their care recipients who had participated in that day’s music therapy classes. There was no difference in the perceived benefits of the music therapy program between caregivers who attended the concurrent support group and those who did not.

Study Limitations (as cited by authors):  The major limitation noted by the author is the low and inconsistent survey response by caregivers. The author cited several possible causes for the low response rate, including the timing of the survey distribution right at the end of the classes when caregivers may have preferred to leave and not stay to complete the survey, and limited volunteer time for survey distribution after the classes ended. The author also suggested that it also may not have been ideal to ask caregivers questions about stress, anxiety, or mood during participant pick-up, when caregivers may have increased frustration or agitation, especially if their loved one wanted to leave right away or they had other appointments. The author also pointed out that the low response rate near the end of the study period may also be attributable to survey fatigue, as indicated anecdotally by the caregivers.

Authors’ Discussion/Conclusions:  The author recommended evaluation of similar programs pairing music therapy for adults with dementia with caregiver support using validated measures and more rigorous methods that could support analyses of other program characteristics and outcomes, such as changes in participation over time, the effects of participants’ interactions, and measures of other program goals.