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Never have I felt the power and strength of music more

Dr Ming Hung Hsu

Music for Dementia is a national campaign leading the call to make music freely available as an integral part of care for people living with dementia.  Some of the UK’s most respected experts in the field of dementia, music, health, social care and politics are supporting the campaign.

 Over the forthcoming issues we will be publishing a series of articles to provide expert comment on dementia and music as well as the broader health landscape we now find ourselves in.  This final blog is by Dr Ming Hung Hsu, Senior Research Fellow at the Cambridge Institute for Music Therapy Research, and Music Therapy Lead for the national charity MHA.

Dr Ming Hung Hsu is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Cambridge Institute for Music Therapy Research, Anglia Ruskin University and Music Therapy Lead for the national charity MHA. Ming’s research interests are mainly within the field of music therapy and dementia care.

By conducting mixed-methods research, Ming studies the role of music therapists in personalising dementia care and supporting caregivers. In addition, he is interested in how melody, tempo and timbre facilitates targeted cognitive processes and emotion regulation. Ming is currently working as part of the UK arm of the international trial study, HOMESIDE, funded by Alzheimer’s Society.

During lockdown a video of a ballad sung out in solidarity into an empty Siena street captures a moment where music turns a standstill into a moving account of social connection. Never have I felt the power of music more for breaking isolation and loneliness caused by social confinement. A survey of 128 care homes by Alzheimer’s Society[1] suggests that lack of contact during lockdown exacerbates the cognitive impairment of residents with dementia.

Without family visits, medical care and stimulation, care home residents deteriorated significantly as they lose the ability to speak, eat and drink. As a music therapist who utilises music to address a person’s unmet social, cognitive, functional and emotional needs, I see an essential role for music for quality of life of people living with dementia.

Throughout lockdown, I worked with therapists who delivered music therapy in care homes for the charity MHA. By assessing the needs of a resident living with dementia a colleague used music to help him isolate in his bedroom. By engaging in music listening and discussing pleasant music-related past events isolation was easier. To ease anxiety I have also seen therapists record pre-requested songs, utilise in therapy sessions, share with families and deliver group sessions via video calls to care homes.

Whilst a dark cloud is cast over the care home sector therapists produce morale boosting music videos featuring singing and dancing of care home staff and residents. Music has not been prioritised during Covid yet therapists have used it to achieve goals and promote resilience.

Music improves health outcomes for community living. The international trial study ’Homeside’[2] highlights restrictions for people with dementia and caregivers at risks of isolation and deteriorating health. The collaborative study (UK, Australia, Poland, Norway and Germany) examines the effects for caregiver-delivered music activities on the management of dementia symptoms such as agitation, apathy, depression and anxiety at home. Results may add weight to the universality of music and impact on global clinical population. Attention is paid to dementia prevention and the link to risk factors such as lack of social engagement, physical activity, depression, high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes[3]. We may not have enough evidence to suggest the ameliorating effect of music. However, music may motivate us to pursue a healthy lifestyle by tackling these factors. Since music has been used throughout history to help us bond, celebrate and heal, I see the power of music prevail more than ever during these trying times of a global pandemic.

[2] Baker, F.A., Bloska, J., Braat, S., Bukowska, A., Clark, I., Hsu, M.H., Kvamme, T., Lautenschlager, N., Lee, Y.E.C., Smrokowska-Reichmann, A. and Sousa, T.V., 2019. HOMESIDE: home-based family caregiver-delivered music and reading interventions for people living with dementia: protocol of a randomised controlled trial. BMJ open, 9(11).
[3] Livingston, G., Sommerlad, A., Orgeta, V., Costafreda, S.G., Huntley, J., Ames, D., Ballard, C., Banerjee, S., Burns, A., Cohen-Mansfield, J. and Cooper, C., 2017. Dementia prevention, intervention, and care. The Lancet, 390(10113), pp.2673-2734.

Edel Harris





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