Personalised music and literacy-based interventions could help connect people with dementia with their carers, creating meaningful moments and giving carers tools to care for their loved ones.
The HOMESIDE study by the University of Melbourne focuses on training family caregivers of people living with dementia to use music and literacy-based activities in strategic and targeted ways.
Literacy-based activities can include reading aloud, listening to audiobooks or discussing magazines.
The study, which began in 2020, is already proving beneficial, with early results showing that carers are seeing benefits to cognitive function, mood, levels of agitation and connection.
One family carer, who had received training in the implementation of reading and word-based activities for her mother, found the experience “weirdly cerebral”.
“It got her memory kind of going again; it almost wakes her brain up doing it,’ she said in Pursuit.
“She feels empowered when she’s reading things and she remembers them, and it just seems to lift her out of the depression when we read.”
The trial involves participants across five countries. To date, 262 families have been recruited for the study and 118 families have already completed the study.
“Families play a critical role in caring for people living with dementia at home for as long as possible, often delaying or avoiding altogether the transition into residential aged care,” the researchers Kate Teggelove and Professor Felicity Baker said in Pursuit.
The study is funded through the European Union initiative Joint Programme for Neurodegenerative Diseases and Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council and is due for completion at the end of 2023.
No formal music or literary training needed
Participants in the trial are randomly allocated to either music and reading conditions or a control group.
Families in the music and reading conditions receive three online training sessions and then, over the next 12 weeks, will share their music or reading experiences with their loved one every fortnight.
The HOMESIDE study, conducted entirely online, has qualified music therapists and occupational therapists working with participants.
They help participants to make use of activities suitable for the person living with dementia.
Many participants have no prior formal music or literary training and programs are suitable for all tastes and preferences.
Exploring music therapy
In September, the university received $2 million in funding from Australia’s Medical Research Future Fund to develop and clinically test a music therapy-informed, mobile technology platform.
The Music Attuned Technology for Care via eHealth project will develop a mobile technology eHealth care program that uses a combination of wearable and environmental sensors.
This will allow carers to monitor and analyse movement and sound cues to detect and interpret changing levels of arousal and agitation in a person living with dementia.
The app will then auto-suggest and adapt appropriate music to help regulate agitation.
The team will work with researchers at CSIRO to create a scalable version of the mobile app.