The B-Sharp Music Wellness: a W.O.N.D.E.R. Project Alzheimer’s Research Initiative (ARI) evaluates the impact of live music on Alzheimer’s patients through a six-week program of musical interventions. Our team comprises a groundbreaking coalition of experts representing Banner Alzheimer’s Institute, Arizona State University’s (ASU) College of Nursing and Health Innovation, University of California, Irvine’s Institute for Interdisciplinary Salivary Bioscience Research, ASU’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, Dignity Health, and leading care centers. The coalition collaborates with the goal of improving quality of life, by reducing stress levels and suffering of patients, families, and caregivers in our community.
The ARI launched in spring of 2015. Nineteen Phoenix Symphony musicians worked together with ASU Music Therapy experts, participating in ensembles at Huger Mercy Living Center, delivering six weeks of live musical interventions. In the second program phase, conducted in fall 2016, we replicated our protocols at Maravilla Care Center, a more conventional environment where enrichment programs seldom receive the same level of institutional support as they do at a care facility such as Huger.
In both program phases, the symphony captured research data demonstrating significant reductions in the stress levels of patients, caregivers, and the musicians participating in the program. In both the pilot launch and the recent program phase, we experienced similar positive results regarding the impact of live musical interventions among patients, musicians, and caregivers. Both qualitative and quantitative data were analyzed. Two biomarker measurement methods were used to gauge stress levels: salivary cortisol is an indicator of the level of activity in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal system, which is one of the principal arms of the stress response; and salivary alpha-amylase is an index of the sympathetic nervous system activation. The analysis of these measurements in the program showed a consistently positive effect on participating patients. An interesting deviation in the data between the levels of functional impairment between the Huger and Maravilla patient populations has led to an additional research question for a third research phase.
As a result of the Huger study, we added an environmental rating to the research agenda at Maravilla. This environmental analysis indicates there may be two critical reductions to cost for the participating institutions. The first of these potential savings is among staff, due to less turnover, increased time on task, less abusive behavior towards staff, and reduced staff stress and more time for focused care. The second cost reduction would be among clients, as residents at care facilities would eat better, sleep better, and experience less agitation and fewer critical events (falls, acute illnesses, and deaths). This suggests the protocols used in the ARI are not only effective in reducing stress, but may significantly reduce the cost of residential treatment for Alzheimer’s patients.
Hospice of the Valley has invited the symphony to provide live music programming for their Alzheimer’s unit, which has an exceptionally high ratio of caregivers to clients. The expertise that our musicians have developed in working with patients and caregivers is recognized as unique and effective in the reduction of stress. The symphony has been invited to develop interactive musical programming for this new space, drawing upon our experience with Alzheimer’s patients.
Continued expansion and funding will strengthen our ability to create a sustainable, growing program and the symphony continuously researches funders whose priorities align with our efforts. The Alzheimer’s Initiative has received additional funding from the Getty Foundation, Twiford Foundation, BHHS Legacy, Thunderbird Charities, MUFG, and the Walton Family Foundation. Additionally, our key researcher, Dr. David Coon at ASU, will be seeking funding from the National Institutes of Health for this project to allow for further expansion.
Note: the Author is the General Manager of the Phoenix Symphony.