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Pharmacy research group takes a non-medicine approach for treatment

Non-Pharmaceutical research is being performed at the Raabe College of Pharmacy (Northern Review/Alex Dyke)

Around the world, dementia is one of the greatest contributors to disability in elderly patients. Working with these patients can prove challenging due to the psychological changes as the condition progresses. Non-pharmacological and behavioral treatments are promoted as a first line treatment in slowing down the progression of the symptoms of dementia, especially with Alzheimer’s Dementia.

One group on campus, the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists (ASCP), happens to be studying non-pharmacological treatment for Alzheimer’s, specifically music therapy.

Using both passive music therapy and active music therapy, they are able to slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s as well as give students experience with working with elderly dementia patients, specifically over at Vancrest, the assisted living home in Ada.

Active music therapy involves direct participation of the patients often in group settings where they play musical instruments, sing, talk, and dance. Passive music therapy is when the patients to music, either live or recorded, of a genre of their choice. Patients usually listen to music preloaded on iPods or other music devices. Passive music therapy is more often used for relaxation and reminiscing on past memories.

This research not only benefits the patients, but also the pharmacy students who are helping the patients.

“This project has shown so many of the students that nonpharmacologic methods are options, and good ones at that,” said Kayla Nagy, one of the pharmacy students working on this project.

The effects of the music therapy are measured by surveys administered to the students, judging their levels of comfort working with dementia patients before and after the therapy sessions, “So we actually perform this research by administering surveys to our students both before the session and after the session. On each of these surveys there were two questions; one question aimed at measuring student comfort levels working with the geriatric Alzheimer’s dementia patients and another question aimed at measuring the knowledge of the student’s understanding of where this ‘non-pharm’ therapy fits into practice,” said Matt Hill, a 5th year Pharmacy student.

A similar survey is given to the healthcare providers of the patients, mainly due to the patients often not being able to fill out the forms themselves. In this case, they are focusing on how the patients feel before and after the music therapy. As Hill explains, “We’re looking at measuring PRN (as needed) medication requests so what that would be is how often they request pain medication or anxiety medication both on days they don’t have music therapy and on days they do to see if there is an effect there as well as administering similar surveys to what we administer to the students but administering those to the healthcare providers that work closely with these patients.”

There are several people in the Pharmacy program who are involved with this research, several of who that have already been briefly mentioned. There are two professor advisors as well as two students who are directly involved with this.

The two professors involved are Dr. Kristen Sobota and Dr. Kelly Kroustus. They serve as the advisors for the research.

“Both Kelly and I have worked with the students on developing evidence based outreach for various community settings.  This music therapy program happens to be one of the outreach programs that we are doing at Vancrest of Ada.  Kelly actually is the consultant pharmacist at that site and takes care of the residents/manages their medication.  So that is why we have partnered with Vancrest,” said Dr. Sobota. 

Dr. Sobota and Dr. Kroustus were brought to this research because of an interest in seeking non-medical treatments for patients. In the dementia patient population, medications to treat their anxiety, agitation, and/or restlessness is not first line treatment. This is where music therapy comes in. By measuring how often these patients request pain meds and anxiety on days they have music therapy and days they don’t have music therapy, as mentioned before, they are able to see if the music therapy improves patient quality of life.

Another person who is involved with this is Kayla Nagy, a pharmacy student. On what brought her to this research, Nagy said, “I love music and I love this patient population. I think it is important to remember that these patients are more than their diagnosis. They are people with their own stories about how they went to dances, sang in their church choirs, or hummed tunes while working on the farm. These sessions allow them to feel like they did at those times, even if for just a little while.” 

This research has proven to be a great experience to both the students as well as the patients. Nagy said, “My favorite experience so far is seeing the impact it has on the residents. I have performed in venues large and small, but there is absolutely nothing that comes close to the feeling of seeing a patient sing and dance along to their favorite song when I know they weren't having the best week.”

There is a great future for this research. Sobota said, “Ideally we would like to expand this to other sites, nursing homes, care givers, senior centers, et cetera.  We would also like to educate pharmacists and pharmacy students of this opportunity/share our outreach because this in an untapped area for student involvement.  We also plan to present this information and outreach next November 2019 at a national ASCP meeting.” The group plans to also further educate people on music therapy and nonpharmacologic options for treating conditions.

Matthew Hill, like several of his associates, has a passion for music that helped bring him to this research.

Matthew Hill, like his associates, has a passion for music that helped bring him to this research. Hill was brought into this research in part due to a passion in music. “I am very passionate about music and nonpharmacologic therapy interventions. This project merges the best of both of those,” said Hill

The skills he brings include research experience, especially with data collection and analysis. Nagy and Hill work together on all of the research that is performed.

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