Making Music Together Helps Couples Facing Dementia Maintain Strong Bonds

Award Date: 2019

Project Lead(s): Jennifer Nicol

Project Title: Using the E-Music Box in Dementia Care: Supporting Social Bonding and Advancing Brain Research

What is the issue?

When one partner develops dementia, older couples face big changes and challenges that chip away at the foundation of their relationship over time. Enjoying meaningful activities together may help them retain bonds and adjust better to changes.

What did we do?

We created an electronic music box system that allows couples affected by dementia to make music together. It turns rotational movements into digital music, like a mechanical music box or player piano. Each person turns the handle on their own music box and tries to play along with their partner. Couples can request personal songs that are meaningful to their shared history or use songs provided.

We conducted studies to see how older couples interacted with the innovation. Learning from a pilot study allowed us to make improvements for increased enjoyment. Next, we conducted two feasibility studies, one with couples unaffected by dementia and the other with couples in which one partner had early-stage dementia. Couples met with a research assistant to learn how to play a song together, ask questions, and receive feedback. We collected observations, field notes, video recordings, and interviews to learn about their experiences. We assessed how well they played together, their perceptions about the ease of playing, and overall enjoyment.

What did we find?

Our results were encouraging. Older adults enjoyed making music as individuals and together with loved ones as a form of recreation. The music boxes helped them connect and strengthen their relationships.