08 February 2019
In her first blog for us, Beth Britton reflects on the power of music in dementia care and gives some tips to harness its positive effects…
When most people think of non-drug therapies to support a person with dementia, music is usually high on the list and with good reason. People living with dementia and their families have reported numerous positive outcomes to using music to support the aspiration of living as well as possible with dementia.
But why is music so beneficial? When we are born, our brains are very responsive to music, and it continues to be a great stimulus throughout our lives. If a person’s brain becomes affected by dementia, the pathways linked to music are usually amongst the last to become diseased, meaning that favourite music continues to be recognisable and enjoyable for a person with dementia, and can assist in reducing feelings of depression and isolation.
Music can also help to alleviate some of the symptoms of dementia, a view supported by the recently launched Music for Dementia 2020 campaign which says: “Research has shown that music and music therapy has the ability to help reduce the often distressing symptoms of dementia, such as agitation, apathy and anxiety.”
It’s no surprise then that music is used throughout dementia care and support, from the Alzheimer’s Society Singing for the Brain groups, through to formal Music Therapy and using music in end of life care interventions.
The most highly acclaimed benefit of music is in its ability to assist communication. Often when a person with dementia can no longer hold a conversation, they can still sing a song or tap out a tune, something I witnessed with my own father during the last nine years of his life with vascular dementia.
Thinking particularly about live-in care, ways in which the relationship between a live-in carer and the person they are supporting might benefit from musical interventions include:
There are numerous fantastic resources families and live-in carers can use to help support a person to enjoy music during their dementia, including the BBC ‘Music Memories’ website, Playlist for Life and Purple Angel Music. There are also some powerful films that show the benefits of music, including this from music therapy charity Nordoff Robbins.
Despite the many benefits of music, it’s important to be mindful that it isn’t for everyone. Tracey Shorthouse, a lady living with young onset dementia, describes in one of her Dementia Diaries that music now irritates her brain.
Ultimately of course, the success of music as a therapy for a person with dementia is as individual as the person themselves, but in the familiar and comforting surroundings of the person’s own home this therapy has a great chance of producing some magic moments.
About the author:
Beth Britton is a leading campaigner, consultant, writer and blogger whose father had vascular dementia for 19 years. Beth is also a Skills for Care Endorsed Training Provider. More information on Beth’s website
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