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The benefits of music for people living with dementia

The universal nature of having the ability to enjoy music provides a very powerful tool to enhance the quality of life of people with dementia. There is now a significant amount of research supporting the benefits of music for people who suffer from it. However, it is estimated that of the 80% of people living in care homes who have dementia or very significant memory problems only 5% have access to art and music.

Musical map for people with dementia

Following on from the updated guidance from (NICE) 2019, encouraging practitioners to offer music therapy is good to hear that the Music for Dementia 2020 team, are launching the first ever Musical Map for Dementia. This unique nationwide resource is helping people living with dementia and their carers find music related events and services in their area.

Music brings a broad range of evidence-based benefits for people living with dementia and yet many people with dementia and their carers do not know where or how to access them.

As part of the Music for Dementia 2020’s call to make music more accessible for people living with dementia, the campaign is asking individuals and organisations such as choirs, music groups and music therapists to come forward and submit their details to the map via www.musicfordementia2020.com.

Grace Meadows, Programme Director at Music for Dementia 2020 and a senior music therapist said: “Music for people living with dementia isn’t a nicety, it’s a necessity. Across the country there are amazing music services being offered and it is vital that people know where they are and how they can access them. This is why we are calling for all those providing musical services to visit our website and upload the information onto the map”.

Training provided by organisations such as Music as Therapy International with local partners and teams has a tremendous impact on dementia residents, carers and relatives.

Music therapy in care homes

With over twenty years of experience as a music therapist, Clare Reynolds (who is a member of Music as Therapy International’s Advisory Panel) first visited Abbeyfield House two years ago. She trained the activity coordinators to use simple music therapy techniques and activities to help them and the wider care team engage their residents living with dementia.

With support and encouragement from the Care Home Manager Clare provided the team with the resources and professional support to equip them with the skills and confidence to enable them to facilitate their own music sessions with their residents every week.

Music is a powerful tool which, when used in a meaningful way, can offer people with dementia a way of connecting and communicating with others” Clare said. “The training offered through Music as Therapy International, allows carers to develop simple musical skills alongside an understanding of what they are doing and importantly why they are doing it.

Staying connected and cherishing the precious moments

NHS England’s National Clinical Director for Dementia and the Deputy Chief Allied Health Professions Officer looks at how music can trigger golden memories and benefit people with dementia: Listening to, and enjoying music, is a universal experience. It reflects and directs our mood, and now innovative and more convenient ways of delivering content makes it easier to listen to music and enjoy it at our convenience.

Music and memory have a powerful connector. Music lights up emotional memories – everyone remembers songs from their past – the first kiss, the song at a wedding, seeing their parents dance and we often use music to remember people at funerals.

The benefits of music

There are three main ways in which people with dementia their families and carers can enjoy and benefit from music.

The first, and potentially the most important, is that listening to music provides a ready resource for enjoyment and entertainment, especially when shared with families and loved ones in a shared experience.

Second, there are a number of initiatives specifically developing bespoke playlists for carers and loved ones for people with dementia. This can facilitate sharing and very positive interactions and there is increasing evidence that musical memory may be different to the kind of day-to-day memories that can be affected in dementia. There is some evidence that retaining memory for music enjoyed between the ages of 10 and 30 is much more enduring. Rekindling these can have a beneficial effect.

There are many stories and examples where music in care homes and in institutions is extraordinarily effective at bringing people together and stimulating memories.

Thirdly, in terms of expert musicians, there are famous examples: Aaron Copland and Ravel who suffered from dementia and more recently Glenn Campbell, one of the world’s most famous country and western singers, was able to perform relatively late into his illness.

Summary

We need to expand our knowledge of how we connect with people who live with dementia. There is now a great deal of evidence that music therapy is beneficial and a means of bringing enjoyment, entertainment and improvement in their quality of life

The Musical Map for Dementia developed by Music for Dementia 2020’s is a unique nationwide resource that is helping people living with dementia and their carers find music related events and services in their area. It is also a resource that can be harnessed by managers of social care services and bring music to people who live in care homes.

Albert Cook BA, MA & Fellow Charted Quality Institute Managing Director Bettal Quality Consultancy

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