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Investigating links between a music therapy service and the reduction of Behavioural and Psychological Symptoms (BPSD) for people living with Dementia in acute NHS inpatient wards

   Vice Chancellor's PhD Studentships

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  Prof H Odell-Miller, Dr M Hung Hsu  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

Our university has recently won the Queen's Anniversary Prize for research and Innovation specifically for our Cambridge Institute for Music Therapy Research work in music therapy research

Dementia is a global growing health crisis, with an estimated 885,000 people in the UK diagnosed with dementia in 2019, projected to increase to 1,590,100 people in 2040 (Wittenberg et al., 2019). Included in this group are a small number of people who are looked after in acute hospital settings owing to the prevalence of depression, often undiagnosed, which can co-occur and interact with dementia in complex ways, often leading to behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia, including agitation, and which cause problems for the person with dementia and their carers. The Lancet (2017) drew attention to this and why dementia prevention, intervention and care are profoundly important.

Psychotropic medication has limited efficacy but is often used to reduce challenging behaviours in later stages of dementia. Among available non-pharmacological interventions that have some supporting evidence, music interventions use the ability of music to elicit emotional responses and retrieve memories. Brain regions responsible for processing music, particularly known familiar songs, may be preserved even in late-stage dementia (Hsu et al 2015). While large randomised control trials such as the MIDDEL study (Gold et al., 2019) and the HOMESIDE study (Baker et al., 2019) are testing different types of music interventions for People with Dementia (PwD) in community and care home settings, no studies so far have investigated music therapy on acute hospital wards where people experience the most challenging behavioural and psychological problems.

A initial study conducted by our research group has begun to evaluate the impact of the current music therapy service on acute two hospital wards for PwD. This has been done through:

  • An audit of music therapists working with PwD in acute NHS settings. An online survey looking at techniques and methods used and the experiences of working during COVID-19
  • Retrospective analysis of routinely collected data from two NHS wards showing statistically significant trends for fewer incidents on days with music therapy when compared with the same weekday without music therapy
  • Semi-structured interviews with staff on the perception of music therapy, with preliminary findings showing the value of music therapy for PwD and staff

The successful applicant for this VC’s PhD Scholarship will expand this research by developing a multi- site feasibility controlled trial exploring the impact of an enhanced music therapy service for PwD and their carers on acute NHS wards through quantitative and qualitative measures.

This project is part of a longstanding collaboration between CIMTR and the Cambridge and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust (CPFT). The supervisory team are very experienced, with over 30 publications between them relating to this topic and recognised by the recent ARU Queen’s Anniversary Prize Award. The project sits within a portfolio of larger projects researching music and music therapy for people living with dementia. 

If you would like to discuss this research project prior to application please contact Prof Helen Odell-Miller (helen.odell-miller(@)


Candidate requirements

Applications are invited from UK fee status only. Applicants should have (or expect to achieve) a minimum upper second-class undergraduate degree (or equivalent) in a cognate discipline. A Masters’ degree in a relevant subject is desirable.

Applicants must be prepared to study on a full-time basis, attending at our Cambridge campus. The Vice Chancellor’s PhD scholarship awards are open to Home fee status applicants only.

Application Procedures

Applications for a Vice Chancellor’s PhD Scholarship are made through the application portal on our website:

 We will review all applications after the submission deadline of 27th February. We will contact shortlisted applicants in the week commencing 14th March. Interviews will be held between 21st March – 1st April. The interview date for this project can be found on our website.

If you have any queries relating to the application process or the terms and conditions of the scholarships, please email vcphdscholarships(@)

Documentation required

You will need the following documents available electronically to upload them to the application portal (we can accept files in pdf, jpeg or Word format):

  1. Certificates and transcripts from your Bachelor and Masters degrees, (if applicable)
  2. Your personal statement explaining your suitability for the project
  3. Passport and visa (if applicable)
  4. Curriculum Vitae

Funding Notes

This successful applicant for this project will receive a Vice Chancellor’s scholarship awards which covers Home tuition fees and provides a UKRI equivalent minimum annual stipend for three years. The award is subject to the successful candidate meeting the scholarship Terms and conditions which can be found on our website:
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