Music as a therapy

By Yvonne Manson, Dementia Consultant

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Music can be a very powerful tool in promoting wellbeing in dementia care. It can evoke emotion, a memory, or a general feeling. For someone living with dementia, this can be a very powerful tool.

Think about how you feel when certain songs come on the radio. You can be driving along in complete silence and then a song comes on, before you know it everyone in the car is singing at the top of their lungs, smiling, engaging and laughing. Or that song that always reminds you of a certain individual or a moment in time. Music has the power to directly, and almost immediately, impact our emotions and this is no different for someone with dementia.

There are two strands to music in wellbeing firstly, there is that reminiscence aspect and secondly the social and active side of music.

Playlist for Life

Playlist for life was first launched in 2013 by Sally Magnusson and is used within the community, hospitals and care homes across the country. Sally founded the playlist for life after seeing the positive effect music had for her mother who had dementia.

In April of 2014, I attended the launch of the pilot group for Playlist for Life in Dunfermline and listened as Sally and Andy Lowndes speak openly and passionately about the benefits of personalised music. I later spoke to Sally and Andy who inspired my thinking and appreciation of the impact of playlist for life for people with dementia in care homes.

Personalisation of music

Playlist for Life involves finding out what songs hold personal meaning to an individual. Our lives are full of music: it is in the background of many of our life events, nursery rhymes, hymns, wedding songs, theme tunes, our first dance, work songs, and listening to it can transport us back to various points in our life.

We will all have a unique playlist that represents our lives. Tom Kitwood speaks of the five psychological needs for a person with dementia: comfort, identity, attachment, occupation and inclusion. Playlist for life can support all of these needs, it has a strong place in identity and comfort.

The music on a person’s playlist for life can help them connect to their identity, evoke the memories from their past and offer that connectedness to others which can bring comfort.

We now use playlist for life across many of our homes and see a real benefit for certain individuals. As with any form of therapy, this isn’t for everyone and it’s about working with residents and family members to identify and create the best method for them.

If this is something you would like to know more about, please get in touch additionally, if you have an old ipod that you don’t use why not consider donating it to a local care home or the playlist for life charity.

Case study by Clement Park Care Home

We are currently using Playlist for Life with one of our residents who has very limited mobility and is peg fed therefore he spends most of the day in his room away from the dining experience. 

Alex loves to watch TV and movies but recently at his last care review it was picked up by staff and visitors that he wasn’t himself and seemed rather down. It was suggest at the review to bring music into the room via an iPod. After the review the family gave me a list of music he loves likes.

The Corries, Foster & Allen and also music from one of his nephew’s bands who are based in Dundee – Boogalusa. I downloaded the music on ITunes and put it on to one of our I pods and then Kelly and I took it up to Alex to see how he would respond as if he enjoyed it his family were going to buy his own iPod and docking station.

Alex’s reaction to the music was great; he was tapping his foot, nodding his head and giving us thumbs up. This kind of facial and body expression is rarely seen from Alex so it was actually really surprising and great to see. This was a month or so ago and he still gets his music on every day and has It blasting from the docking station.

References (accessed 24/04/2017)

Kitwood, T. (1997) Dementia Reconsidered: The Person Comes First. Philadelphia, PA: Open University Press.