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MATCH app could revolutionise in-home care for people living with dementia

The preliminary results from international study HOMESIDE led by the University of Melbourne has produced encouraging outcomes while exploring the benefits of music and reading for people living with dementia.

<p>The MATCH application aims to improve the quality of life for people living with dementia through music and literacy. [Source: iStock]</p>

The MATCH application aims to improve the quality of life for people living with dementia through music and literacy. [Source: iStock]

The research, due to be completed by the end of 2023, aims to draw on its data to establish an app called The Music Attuned Technology for Care via eHealth (or MATCH), designed to teach carers to regulate arousal, reduce agitation and manage the behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia.

The MATCH mobile application aims to detect and interpret continuously changing levels of arousal and agitation in a person living with dementia by monitoring and analysing movement and sound cues, and then auto-suggest and adapt appropriate music to help regulate agitation.

The research team is working to collaborate with researchers at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) to create a scalable version of the mobile app, which could revolutionise how people living with dementia are supported.

So far, the preliminary results from the first phases of the study have shown to empower carers with the use of prescribed music and literacy activities which are said to have improved connection with a loved one living with dementia and their loved ones, and improved their cognitive function, mood, levels of agitation and connection.

With an app to be rolled out in Australia next year, can prescribed music and literacy really make a difference for people with dementia?

What is dementia?

Dementia is a general term for loss of memory, language, problem-solving and other thinking abilities caused by abnormal brain changes and damage to brain cells that can interfere with daily life.

Dementia is not a single disease; it’s an umbrella term that covers a wide range of specific medical conditions, including diseases like Alzheimer’s. Dementia is not a normal part of ageing.

Dementia disorders often impact behaviours, feelings and relationships and affect an estimated 50 million people worldwide – a number expected to rise to 130 million by 2050.

Signs of dementia can vary greatly. Examples include problems with:

  • Short-term memory
  • Behavioural changes
  • Your ability to read or write
  • Forgetting appointments or were you left your wallet and keys

What the study aims to do

As the majority of people with dementia live in the community and not in residential care settings, quality informal care for people with dementia at home is crucial.

HOMESIDE was developed following findings presented in the recent Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, where funding to care was deemed inadequate and found there was an overuse of pharmacological and physical restraints to manage people with dementia in residential care.

Professor Felicity Baker, Principal MATCH Investigator at The University of Melbourne, says the team is currently testing the app with family carers at home to refine the training program and app design, while also preparing to develop the algorithms and machine learning that will detect agitation and inform music interventions.

“We anticipate that the MATCH app will improve care and quality of life for people with dementia, be cost effective and reduce care costs and reduce the need for antipsychotic medications, improve relationships of people with dementia and their family and professional carers, reduce carer distress and burnout,” she says.

Professor Baker said there were three components of the MATCH app which began its in-home trials in January.

“One, to train family or professional carers to use music in a mindful and strategic way to support care,” she said.

“Two, provide a needs assessment of each person with dementia which guides carers to know which of the strategies to use at different times and for different purposes.

“And three, in development is our music adaptive system whereby wearable sensors will detect early signs of agitation using bio-behavioural markers and then adapt the music to attune and regulate agitation.”

The HOMESIDE study that MATCH was born from was conducted entirely online, with the help of qualified music therapists and occupational therapists who worked with participants to understand how best to optimise the programs within the person living with dementia’s capacity.

This home-based intervention will be compared to standard care and evaluate the effectiveness of the music intervention compared to a reading intervention or no intervention at all.

This app will help make life for people with dementia and their carers more streamlined, calm and engaging.

Can music and literacy make a difference?

The benefits of music and reading for older people living with dementia have long been suggested in multiple studies over the last decade.

For older people living with dementia, it is important for carers to help preserve their sense of self as much as possible, helping them cope with their changing cognitive abilities and perceptions.

Promoting interaction through specialist music and reading activities has been shown to not only support cognitive function, but also improve quality of life.

Music has been shown to help relieve stress, reduce anxiety and depression, and reduce agitation in older people living with dementia and the benefits of clapping along, tapping their feet or dancing to music can have a profound effect on their wellbeing. You can learn more in our article, ‘The benefits of music therapy for older people‘.

Research also suggests musical memory functions differently than other types of memory and singing can help stimulate unique memories.

Similarly, it has been proven that the cognitive stimulation of processing written material can slow down the progression of dementia and the decline of language skills.

Additionally, reading has been found to connect older adults with their memories, their sense of self, their loved ones and the world.

Books can be calming and shift one’s focus to positive thoughts and reading as an autonomous activity helps enhance one’s self-image, renewing a sense of self-respect and dignity.

This new app, that provides prescribed literacy and music, may provide extra support for older people with dementia in Australia.

How have you seen music and reading benefit a person with dementia? Tell us in the comments below.

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