Real Lives

The power of music

Musical power and initiative for people living with dementia across the UK #M4D2020

The power of music to improves the lives of people with dementia is becoming increasingly high profile amongst experts, caregivers, care home owners and families of people with dementia.  The music for dementia 2020 campaign is empowering and changing the music and dementia landscape.

M4D2020 campaigns for people with dementia to have the right to music as part of their care and access music free of charge, wherever they are. The campaign team is calling on the music industry, philanthropists, and the health and social care sectors to help make it free and easy for people with dementia to access music.

TV and radio presenter Lauren Laverne is spearheading the Music for Dementia 2020 campaign and urging people with dementia and their families to build music playlists.

Music-based initiatives for people with dementia can range from community based music groups, live music in care homes, listening to the radio or recorded music, playing an instrument, music therapy, or using personalised playlists. Evidence suggests that there is a ‘memory bump’ for music: people with dementia retain the clearest memories for the music they enjoyed and heard roughly between the ages of 10 and 30. (1)

Two Initiatives from the campaign include launching the first ever Musical Map for Dementia to connect people to local musical services.  The online interactive map which will become the largest and most comprehensive database of dementia friendly music services in the UK.

The recent high-profile playlist campaign is enabling families or loved ones who don’t know how to get on to the right platform to create a playlist and have conversations with their loved one about what music they would like on it. M4D2020 has produced a series of guides to help families of people with dementia access the music they love.

Both initiatives as well as the increasing impact that music has on dementia care is receiving widespread affirmation from care workers.   Research has shown there are evidenced emotional, psychological, social and communication benefits to playing personalised music with people living with dementia.

Music for Dementia 2020 has also partnered with Live Music Now to launch a new Musical Care Taskforce, which brings together more than 60 leading representatives from across health, social care, dementia and music with the aim to make music an essential element of dementia care.

The daughter of Jean Cave, a resident of Sunrise of Guildford care home has witnessed the powerful benefits that music is bringing to her mum’s dementia.  She describes below the transformation a programme of musical events in her mum’s care home has brought.

“Mum is one of three sisters who sang, played the piano and performed when they were children and young women before the war. The sisters founded a primary school at the end of the war in which music and the arts were very important.  When I was a child the families got together every weekend, and evenings always ended with singing round the piano. My father and uncles were good piano players. Concert going and music was always a big part of life.

In her later years Mum hardly sang, saying her voice was no good anymore and she couldn’t reach the top notes. However, since living with dementia, music, and singing in particular, have come to be a large part of her life again. She remembers words of songs, poetry and music when she can remember little else. We can sing together and recite when we can no longer talk of the past. It gives her confidence because she understands.

Since being at Sunrise, the programme of musical events has been a great joy for Mum. Particularly important has been the choir. Although she can’t remember that she has been singing, at the time she is completely involved and happy. She throws herself into performance with no embarrassment and her voice is strong again. Somehow she is transported back to being the child who is taking centre stage in the dancing school show.

The use of headphones, with a voice talking to her one to one, has been a way of bringing music to her individually, allowing her to be happily involved in an activity on her own. You can see from her eyes and skin complexion that she is present and engaging in life and is happy.  As time passes and dementia takes Mum further from the life she had and impacts her understanding of the world around her, the music, singing and poetry become more and more important as a window into who she was and is. Music brings Mum happiness, and in doing so, makes us happy.

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. I’ve witnessed first-hand the power of music in helping transform people’s lives. In every corner of the country there are talented people delivering musical services that can alleviate the often-distressing symptoms of dementia, such as agitation, apathy and anxiety but it’s vital people know where they are and how to access them.”

(1) Rubin, DC; Rahhal, TA; Poon, LW, (1998) ‘Things learned in early adulthood are remembered best’ Memory & Cognition, 26)

Edel Harris





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