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The BBC's Charles Rhodes
Doctors are to study the benefits of music therapy
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Professor Susan Greenfield
This is a marvellous treatment
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Thursday, 16 November, 2000, 11:09 GMT
Music therapy 'helps dementia'
Dementia patient
Dementia patients can communicate through music
Scientists in London are carrying out a study to see if music therapy could be introduced on the NHS to help dementia patients.

Initial trials have shown that old people who suffer from dementia benefit from music therapy.

The therapy involves professional musicians and patients playing instruments and making music.

The trials have found that the therapy is popular with patients and can help them to communicate.

Chris Bulpitt
Professor Bulpitt is to head the study
But scientists at Imperial College London are planning to carry out a study to see if they can prove that this therapy has long term benefits for dementia sufferers.

If their results are positive, the scientists are hopeful that the therapy can be introduced on the NHS as a treatment for dementia patients.

Dementia is a progressive, degenerative and irreversible brain disorder that causes intellectual impairment, disorientation and eventually death.

There is no cure. It is estimated that 2-5% of people over 65 years of age and up to 20% of those over 85 years of age suffer from the disease.

Benefit patients

Professor Chris Bulpitt, from Imperial College London who is heading the study, believes music therapy can benefit patients.

Caroline Welsh
Caroline Welsh: It helps patients
But he added: "For the health service to take a serious interest in this type of therapy you have to show longer term benefits.

"That's why we are going to measure quality of life, activity, cognition, communication and hostility, for about four weeks.

"Then they are having eight weeks of weekly therapy and another four weeks to see how it lasts."

Neuroscientists Professor Susan Greenfield described the therapy as marvellous.

"I think this is marvellous because it is not involving drugs and so much treatment usually involves some sort of medication.

"Here we have something that is exploiting a natural property of the brain to really maximise the benefits."

'Slow the disease'

Professor Greenfield said that while the therapy will not cure dementia it could slow down the progression of the disease.

Susan Greenfield
Professor Greenfield: It can help patients
"What could be the case, and this is just an idea, is that by stimulating the brain in this way you're actually stimulating the connections you're trying to keep them working and if they are working then perhaps they would be less prone to degenerating.

"So it may be slowing down the process in some way, stabilising what you have."

Caroline Welsh, from Music for Life and one of the musicians who has played for dementia patients, said the therapy helps patients to communicate.

"There is a childlike quality that people suffering from dementia have, so they are reacting in an instinctive way often and sometimes their emotion is very raw and very close to the surface.

"If you play something that is very beautiful it may make some of the residents cry and it is very clear how you are communicating with them."

Professor Greenfield said she hoped the therapy could be introduced across the UK.

"One would hope so because it is not involving high tech equipment or very expensive or toxic drugs."

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07 Aug 00 | Health
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