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

Nichola Haddad, MD

 Brigham and Women’s Hospital – Resident
Haddad_Nichola poster

Scientific Abstract

Background: Music listening interventions have been shown to reduce late-life depression and anxiety but their impact on loneliness has not been well-studied. Risks associated with loneliness in older adults include depression, cognitive decline, poorer disease outcomes and premature mortality. This study evaluated the feasibility of a remotely delivered, personalized music therapy intervention for older adults living alone during the COVID-19 pandemic, and assessed measures of socioemotional well-being before, during, and after the intervention.

Methods: We recruited community-dwelling, cognitively unimpaired older adults who endorsed loneliness. 8 weekly music therapy sessions were conducted with a music therapist via Zoom to develop personalized music playlists and learn music-listening techniques. Subjects listened to playlists for 1 hour daily, completed a daily journal, and answered surveys at weeks 0 (pre), 4 (mid), and 8 (post). The primary outcome was the PROMIS Social Isolation Scale. Secondary outcomes were the Behavioral Activation for Depression Scale (BADS), Positive Affect and Well-Being Scale, Perceived Stress Scale (PSS), Brief Symptom Inventory (BSI), and Snaith-Hamilton Pleasure Scale (SHAPS). Qualitative data were collected at week 8 for thematic analysis. 

Results: From 3/21-7/21, 17 older adults were screened (12 successful, 5 failed) and 2 dropped out, leaving 10 who completed the study. Parametric t-tests were conducted. SHAPS and BSI showed pre-post significance and PSS showed pre-post trend-level significance. BADS, SHAPS, and PSS showed pre-mid significance and BSI showed trend-level significance. Numerical scores for all outcomes changed in an improved direction. Interviews were notable for themes of joy and improvements in sleep, health, focus, and physical pain, and increased connectedness to culture, loved ones, and the music therapist.

Conclusion: Older adults may be able to better tolerate feelings of loneliness with a virtual, personalized music therapy intervention. This study is novel in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has significantly increased levels of loneliness and social isolation amongst older adults.

Live Zoom Session – March 9th

research Areas


Nichola R. Haddad, MD, Hema Kher, MD, Benjamin Zide, Maria Hernandez, MD, MT-BC, Suzanne Hanser, EdD, Nancy J. Donovan, MD

Principal Investigator

Nancy Donovan, MD

Affiliated Website