CSO’s Music and Memory program Kristen Sutcliffe
The Music and Memory program saw 10 participants attend bi-weekly, 30-minute concerts over eight weeks at Goodwin House Ainslie, with all performances featuring a duo of CSO musicians. Photo Martin Ollman.

Findings from the Canberra Symphony Orchestra’s (CSO) Music and Memory pilot program demonstrate the benefits of live music for people living with dementia.

Over the course of eight weeks, a statistically significant reduction in disruptive behaviours was observed, along with anecdotally observed improvements in mood and increased social interaction.

Developed by CSO bassoonist and audiologist Kristen Sutcliffe, with third-year UC psychology student Heather Roche, Music and Memory has been designed to touch the hearts and minds of people living with dementia, through specifically chosen music.

The program ran throughout July and August and saw 10 participants attend bi-weekly, 30-minute concerts at Goodwin House Ainslie that all featured a duo of CSO musicians.

The song list retained some fixed elements and some variables, with the repetition of a few crowd favourites at every concert deemed good for the subjects.

This was based on previous studies that indicate such repetition can help to create a sense of stability and security.

Ms Sutcliffe pointed out most of the existing research only utilises generalised music for relaxation, as opposed to their approach with specifically targeted music.

“We’re filling in that niche of having a personalised musical program we can deliver within a live music setting,” she said.

Every concert begins with You are my Sunshine by Jimmy Davis.

“As soon as we start playing it you see the feet tapping, it’s beautiful,” Ms Sutcliffe said.

And each performance is capped off with Almost Like Being in Love from the 1940s musical, Brigadoon.

Then in the middle of every gig there’s even a bit of ABBA and a rendition of Hit the Road Jack.

“One of the key benefits we observed was the calming effect of the music across the study group,” Ms Sutcliffe said.

“The design and delivery also made it possible to build rapport with the participants and connect on a social, as well as musical, level.”

CSO’s Music and Memory program bi-weekly concert at goodwin aged care ainslie
Music and Memory was developed by CSO bassoonist Kristen Sutcliffe, who observed a number of positive outcomes in participants, such as reduced anxiety and agitation. Photo Goodwin Aged Care.

A statistically significant reduction in disruptive behaviours was observed over the eight-week pilot.

Insecurity and restlessness were measured by the frequency of behaviours such as hoarding or hiding objects, agitation at the end of the day and nocturnal restlessness.

Significant reduction was observed between the beginning of the program and week four, and again between weeks four and eight.

There was also a noteworthy decrease in repetitive behaviours such as pacing, aimless wandering, repetitive utterances and unwarranted requests for help.

Additional observations included anecdotal reports of participants singing along to pieces, being moved to dance, calming them down, and even some recalling concerts they’d attended years prior.

Goodwin Aged Care Services supported the program delivery through hosting the concerts, providing care supports to participants, administration, behavioural research and management of ethical considerations.

“Music has always been a part of life at Goodwin,” said Goodwin executive director of care, Jamie Fillingham. “It’s great to see the positive effects highlighted through this program.”

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