Music therapy for neuropsychiatric symptoms in the general hospital: a systematic literature review


  • Carol-Anne Sherriff Care of the Elderly, NHS Lothian
  • Jillian Mathews Medicine of the Elderly, NHS Lothian,
  • Emma L Reynish Medicine of the Elderly, NHS Lothian, Stirling University
  • Susan D Shenkin Department of Geriatric Medicine, Department of Clinical and Surgical Sciences The University of Edinburgh, Medicine of the Elderly, NHS Lothian



Dementia and delirium are common in medical and surgical inpatients, and neuropsychiatric symptoms can be challenging to manage. Non-pharmacological interventions such as music therapy have been used to treat these symptoms in psychiatric hospitals and care homes but are not routinely used in general hospitals. We performed a systematic literature review to establish whether music therapy improves neuropsychiatric symptoms in adults with dementia and/or delirium in the general hospital setting. We searched CINAHL, Medline, PsycINFO in November 2015. Search terms included music therapy, dementia and delirium. Of 5054 titles reviewed we read 142 in full text of which none met inclusion criteria. We qualitatively reviewed six articles including 202 patients which could inform future research in music in general hospitals for people with dementia and/or delirium.  Music delivery was feasible and had a positive effect on some aspects of neuropsychiatric symptoms in various settings, but the studies were generally small, at high risk of bias, and did not use recognised frameworks for evaluating complex interventions. We found no published evidence for the use of music therapy in the treatment of neuropsychiatric symptoms in patients with dementia and/or delirium in the general hospital setting. Well-designed studies of this intervention are needed.






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