Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra

SBCO Releases Study Results on Cognitive Benefits of Classical Music

Live classical music performances offer greater therapeutic value for individuals suffering cognitive or neurological impairment than do classical music recordings, according to the results of an innovative study recently undertaken by the Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra (SBCO). Titled “Classical Connections,” the effort involved chamber music performances for elderly dementia patients by SBCO musicians over a four-week period at Santa Barbara’s Friendship Center Adult Day Care, a project collaborator. According to lead researcher Lori Sunshine, some 95 percent of study participants evinced positive emotional, social, and physical responses to the performances, whereas observable responses to recordings were both less evident and less expressive. The SBCO plans to launch a follow-up study this spring.

Ms. Sunshine believes the results bolster the case for greater human interaction with elderly dementia patients, though she concedes more research is needed.

“These findings are broadly consistent with other studies that were similarly structured, and we know that classical music confers unique therapeutic benefits to those who suffer with dementia,” said Ms. Sunshine, a board-certified music therapist for more than 35 years. “Seniors living in assisted-care residences because of neurological decline invariably come to miss their connections to old friends and loved ones, leading to a sense of isolation. The feeling of belonging they once knew in their community also disappears. Live classical music performances bring beauty, joy, memory, community, and human connection back into their lives.”

Ms. Sunshine currently works with Livingston Memorial Hospice and St. John’s Regional Medical Center, both in Ventura County, and has practiced in New Mexico, New York, and Europe.

“We are proud to be in the forefront of this important work,” said SBCO Board Chair Joe Campanelli. “As an organization, we strive to not only play great music, but to do great things with it. As we move into phase two this spring, we look forward to seeing how these initial studies can open the door for real funding to take this work to a significant level benefiting all those who suffer cognitive impairment.”

Classical Connections was generously supported by Union Bank, the James S. Bower Foundation, the Rotary Club of Montecito Foundation, and the Williams-Corbett Foundation.