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Attending the symphony helps people with dementia, CSU researchers find

FORT COLLINS, Colo. — Researchers at Colorado State University found that attending symphony performances has “strikingly positive effects on mood, cognitive function and relationships” in people with dementia.

Researchers spent nine months studying the impact of live music on people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

An arts engagement program called “B Sharp” gave participants in the study season tickets to five Fort Collins Symphony performances and concert receptions.

“The study found that the majority of participants experienced an unexpected reversal of cognitive decline over the course of the program,” according to a statement published by the university.

“That’s stunning for people who have a degenerative disease,” said lead researcher Jeni Cross, an associate professor in CSU’s Department of Sociology. “The best we had hoped for was to keep cognitive function flat. It actually improved for most of them.”

The study identified several other positive effects.

Attending the symphony performances was shown to “improve alertness, engagement, mood, sense of community, feelings of acceptance and the interactions between caregivers and their loved ones.”

The positive effect on participants’ mood began days before each performance, as they anticipated the upcoming concert, Cross stated. Even those with severe forms of dementia remembered the next day that something important had happened the night before.

Researchers said the most surprising find was how B Sharp benefited caregivers who attended the events.

Caregivers “often become isolated and lose reciprocal relationships because of their loved one’s decreasing ability to give back,” researchers said.

“We knew caregivers were stressed out by the caregiving, but we didn’t realize that they were losing reciprocity and mutuality. They need to feel like they are giving and receiving,” Cross said.

The program gave caregivers a sense of normalcy and a social opportunity to connect with other caregivers who could empathize, the researchers said.

Cross acknowledged the findings are preliminary, given a limited sample size, but the results are promising and she plans to pursue funding for further research.

“We can say that participation showed positive effects and it’s worth continued study,” she said. “It’s been really rewarding to see the results.”