A Personalized, Telehealth Music Therapy Intervention for Lonely Older Adults: A Feasibility Study

Principal Investigator: Nancy Donovan, MD

Authors: Nichola Haddad MD, Hema Kher MD, Benjamin Zide, Maria Hernandez, Suzanne Hanser MD, Nancy Donovan MD
Lay Abstract

Music listening interventions may reduce depression and anxiety in older adults but their impact on loneliness is understudied. This study evaluated the feasibility of a virtual, personalized music therapy intervention for older adults endorsing loneliness during COVID-19 and assessed socioemotional wellbeing throughout the intervention. We recruited cognitively unimpaired older adults who endorsed loneliness. Eight weekly music therapy sessions were conducted via Zoom. Participants listened to personalized music playlists daily, completed a journal, and answered questionnaires at weeks 0, 4, and 8. The primary outcome was the PROMIS Social Isolation Scale score. Secondary outcome measures included behavioral activation, positive affect, perceived stress, psychosomatic symptoms, and pleasure. Qualitative data were collected at week 8 for thematic analysis. 10 participants enrolled (mean age 74.82 [66-85], 88% women). No statistically significant pre-post changes were observed for loneliness or other outcomes. Numerical values for loneliness and most other outcomes changed in an improved direction. Recruitment and participant acceptability of a virtual, personalized music therapy intervention have been positive. Interim data analysis points to a possible improvement in loneliness, though limited by low statistical power. Music therapy may be a novel and feasible approach to address loneliness and emotional wellbeing in older adults.

Scientific Abstract

Music listening interventions may reduce depression and anxiety in older adults but their impact on loneliness is understudied. This study evaluated the feasibility of a virtual, personalized music therapy intervention for older adults endorsing loneliness during COVID-19 and assessed socioemotional wellbeing throughout the intervention. We recruited cognitively unimpaired older adults who endorsed loneliness. Eight weekly music therapy sessions were conducted via Zoom. Participants listened to personalized music playlists daily, completed a journal, and answered questionnaires at weeks 0, 4, and 8. The primary outcome was the PROMIS Social Isolation Scale score. Secondary outcome measures included behavioral activation, positive affect, perceived stress, psychosomatic symptoms, and pleasure. Qualitative data were collected at week 8 for thematic analysis. 10 participants enrolled (mean age 74.82 [66-85], 88% women). No statistically significant pre-post changes were observed for loneliness or other outcomes. Numerical values for loneliness and most other outcomes changed in an improved direction. Recruitment and participant acceptability of a virtual, personalized music therapy intervention have been positive. Interim data analysis points to a possible improvement in loneliness, though limited by low statistical power. Music therapy may be a novel and feasible approach to address loneliness and emotional wellbeing in older adults.

Clinical Implications
The COVID-19 pandemic has seen increasing reports of loneliness amongst older adults. Our study showed that a virtual, personalized music therapy intervention improved socioemotional wellbeing. Music therapy may be a helpful intervention for cognitively intact older adults endorsing loneliness.

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