Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2019

Access Restrictions

Access restricted until 07/29/2021

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Gfeller, Kate

Second Advisor

Tranel, Daniel

First Committee Member

Oleson, Jacob

Second Committee Member

Adamek, Mary

Third Committee Member

Manternach, Jeremy


Background: By 2050, it is estimated that 14 million older Americans will live with Alzheimer’s disease (AD), a progressive form of dementia with unknown cause or cure. Persons with AD and related dementias (ADRD) become increasingly dependent on others as they experience cognitive decline, which concomitantly undermines individuals’ functional skills, social initiative, and quality of life. The Alzheimer’s Association advocates for interventions that address cognition, mood, behavior, social engagement, and by extension, quality of life – goals music therapists often address. Although a small but growing body of literature suggests that clinical music therapy may be effective, the evidentiary support for the use and appropriate application of music as a form of treatment with this population is currently limited.

Objectives: This thesis consisted of the development of a Clinical Practice Model of music therapy for persons with ADRD. It also examined the effectiveness of a specific, protocol-based music therapy intervention, grounded in this model, relative to a verbal discussion activity.

Methods: The Clinical Practice Model is theoretically grounded in the biopsychosocial model of healthcare (Engel, 1980) and Kitwood’s (1997) personhood framework, and I developed it through extensive literature review and expert input. It includes an organizational schema for applying intervention strategies, per six themes: cognition, attention, familiarity, audibility, structure, and autonomy. The initial model predicts that an intervention built upon this schema will influence social-affective responses, quality of life, and in turn, psychosocial symptoms of ADRD.

I tested a singing-based music therapy intervention, grounded in this model, through a randomized clinical crossover trial. I compared participants’ responses to music therapy to a non-music verbal discussion activity, and both conditions followed a protocol. Dependent variables included: (1) affective responses (self-reported feelings, observed emotions, and observed mood), (2) social engagement, and (3) observed quality of life. Thirty-two individuals with ADRD (n = 6 men, n = 26 women) ages 65-97 years old (μ̂ = 84.13) participated in this study. I randomly assigned treatment order; each treatment occurred in small-group format, three times per week in the afternoon (25 minutes each session), for two consecutive weeks. A two-week “wash-out” period occurred between conditions. Credentialed music therapists led both study conditions. This study followed recommendations from the National Institutes of Health Behavior Change Consortium (Bellg et al., 2004) to enhance quality assurance in protocol administration and data collection.

Results and Significance: I used a linear mixed model approach to analysis. Music therapy exacted a significant, positive effect on self-reported feelings, observed emotions, and constructive engagement, particularly for individuals with moderate dementia. Results also suggested that men’s feelings improved in response to music therapy only, whereas women responded positively to both conditions. Weekly observations failed to indicate a significant change in mood or quality of life across the eight-week study. Based on these findings, I revised the Clinical Practice Model to include wellbeing (an outcome more concordant with psychosocial change in response to music intervention) rather than global quality of life (affected by numerous aspects of the care milieu). In addition to the Clinical Practice Model to the music therapy profession, contributions of this thesis include a rigorous clinical study and practical implications for music therapy practice, including the importance of considering patient characteristics and careful selection and implementation of music in a music therapy intervention.


Alzheimer, clinical practice, dementia treatment, linear mixed model, music therapy, randomized controlled trial


xxiv, 400 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 243-264).


Copyright © 2019 Alaine Elizabeth Reschke-Hernández

Available for download on Thursday, July 29, 2021

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