Research Project Takes Personal Turn For Phoenix Symphony
Saturday April 1, 2017
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
“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
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?”
Nursing Center Welcomes The Research
Barrett says the ASU research team, working with the symphony, approached him about its effort to look at music and memory by utilizing not only standard research protocols of observation, but also through the saliva testing procedures as they relate to stressors in the brain. “And what this also took us into wasn’t just the encounters with the musicians but also bathing. Now, how could bathing potentially be looked at from a music standpoint? Well, it is an intriguing program,” Barrett says.
To explain further, he notes that the program, which concluded in December, started with a concert for the entire Maravilla community, followed by seven encounters lasting around 30 minutes, matching musicians with smaller subsets of neighbors with AD.
How Program Played Out
Staff Help Researchers
Valerie Bontrager, director of education and community engagement for the Phoenix Symphony, says Maravilla actually marked the second round of collecting research, with the first round happening at another facility. “But we needed to look at a larger group of data to verify some of the initial findings,” she says.
Bontrager notes that the ASU team also included the musicians in the research by taking their saliva measurements as well to collect data on how performing outside of the regular symphony space and in the community impacted them.
“Some really interesting larger questions started to emerge,” she says, like how does a symphony and art community provide information for other art communities and other long term care facilities.