The words symphony and saliva testing are not usually found in the same sentence. But through an innovative research project by Arizona State University (ASU) in conjunction with the Maravilla Care Center and the Phoenix Symphony, they do go together. By bringing music—from Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” to classical compositions—to the Phoenix-based nursing care center’s patients with Alzheimer’s disease (AD), or neighbors, as Maravilla calls residents, researchers are learning how the power of the symphony’s playing affects persons with cognitive and behavioral impairments. And to do this, saliva testing is performed to compare anxiety levels of selected neighbors when listening to the music versus their most stressful regular activity: bathing.
A Community Experiment
David Coon, PhD, associate dean and professor of nursing and health innovation at ASU, says the question driving the research is clear.
“What is the impact of a community-level, music-based intervention offered by an interdisciplinary team (symphony musicians, music therapists, nurses, and behavioral scientists) on the mood and behavior of residents with dementia residing in long term care communities?” he says. “Is such an approach feasible for and acceptable to the community?” Initial results of nurse ratings suggest there have been positive changes in resident mood (for example, increases in positive affect) and behavior (increases in interaction). Nurse ratings of the environment in the evenings during baths, on the days that morning music events had occurred, “were more positive in terms of levels of resident cooperation and mood, in comparison to evenings without morning music events,” Coon says. “Finally, the intervention was rated highly by musicians, facility staff, and family caregivers in terms of its overall benefit to residents and themselves.”
Symphony Reaches Out
Jim Ward, president and chief executive officer (CEO) of The Phoenix Symphony Association and a key proponent of the program, says the idea to bring musicians to the nursing care center went hand in hand with the organization’s mission, which is in part to give back to the community and align the symphony’s needs with the needs of the community.
The fact that Arizona has a healthy number of elderly residents helped point the symphony to the nursing care setting, and specifically to the AD community.
“One of the key issues around AD is quality of life. And the key driver for quality of life is stress levels, not only the stress level of patients themselves but also of the caregivers of the facilities who have the difficult task of dealing with AD and family members who are going through the grieving process because of the loss,” Ward says.
“So we asked, is there a way that we could affect those stress levels and enhance quality of life?”