Dementia And The Power of Music

By TheBoldAge. Published 2020-08-04
BOLD-Wellbeing
TheBoldAge talks to Grace Meadows, Programme Director for Music for Dementia about why she believes so passionately in the power of music for people living with dementia, how you can help others to enjoy music and why their new radio station is hitting the right notes.

Think of a song, one that means something to you, and suddenly you’re transported back to another time and place. You might even remember when you first heard it, who you were with and the feelings it evoked. Those feelings are probably still some of the very same feelings you felt at the time – be it joy, relief, sadness, passion, elation. This is the power of music. It taps into us on so many levels – emotionally, cognitively, socially, physiologically.

woman enjoying music

That song or favourite piece of music can be the key to connecting with someone living with dementia. Not only can music connect us with memories, it also stimulates us to share those memories and to make connections in the here and now. Music’s ability to connect us is one of its greatest powers and why we see time and time again its transformative power in dementia care.

Dementia isolates. It pulls up around someone like a drawbridge and starts to rust the chains. All aspects of someone’s life are affected – from their ability to be able to care for themselves independently to being able to communicate their wishes and needs. To keep the analogy going, not much is able to get over the drawbridge, however music, with its mercurial nature, can. It is able to get over, round and through, helping to lower the drawbridge and make those all-important connections happen in the moment

No one should have to live in isolation because of dementia and this is why we are campaigning for music to be made a part of dementia care. The potential it has to help improve the quality of life for people living with dementia is profound. Through its use in their care, we see skills being retained, new skills acquired, connections maintained and people enjoying life. Importantly, music enables us to see and hear the person beyond their diagnosis of dementia. It enables people to be in the present, creating meaningful moments of connection with those who care for them. It provides that voice, that channel for communication for when words are no longer available or are too much.

I truly believe in the power of music to transform lives, be that the trajectory of someone’s life or for a precious moment that can be all sustaining. I am passionate about what we want to achieve with the Music for Dementia campaign, making music an integral part of dementia care and freely available at the point of access. We have no pharmacological cure for dementia, as we all know, but we do have this incredible tool at our finger tips to help transform quality of life for not only people living with dementia, but all the many hundreds of thousands who care for them.

In the UK, we have the most wonderful community of music practitioners, from musical volunteers who entertain by playing or singing in care settings, through to professional musicians and music therapists who are highly skilled and trained in working with people living with dementia through music. This community, like so many have been affected by the pandemic, and in not being able to provide their services to care settings, the sound of silence now pervades many of them.

This is having a detrimental effect on people living with dementia. The Alzheimer’s Society’s findings into the impact of lockdown on the symptoms of people living with dementia highlight that 82% of people have seen an increase in dementia symptoms during lockdown. We are also hearing this from music practitioners, carers and family members. Music provides a vital role in managing the symptoms of dementia, helping to reduce agitation and anxiety, alleviating depression, encouraging a greater sense of motivation through stimulation.

Learning of the impact of lockdown combined with knowing that music practitioners could not go into care settings to provide support, we knew we needed to do something to help keep the music flowing in some way. This is when m4dradio.com came to life. Although listening to music is not a replacement for experiencing live music making with people, we knew we could help keep the music going and still reach people by providing this free, 24/7, ad free internet station that offers a range of music from the 1930s – 70s across five channels. We worked with a focus group of people with lived experience to help determine musical choices and the look and feel of the website. Lauren Laverne, radio DJ and ambassador for Music for Dementia launched the station in June.

Feedback started to flood in with people telling us how much they were enjoying the continual music, the absence of advertisements and the range across decades. We’ve found that our listeners are as diverse as the music we play. Everyone has been enjoying it, not just those with dementia or their carers.

senior music headphones

This is just the beginning for the station. We’re going to be working with people with lived experience over the coming weeks and months to help develop and grow the content on the station, introducing a greater range of styles of music and more specific programmes to support health and wellbeing. These will be important developments because we know that music has the potential to be most impactful and beneficial when it is personalised – when people are able to enjoy the music that matters to them.

For many during Covid, music has been a lifesaver and listening to music has been one of the most accessible ways of being able to experience it. As we continue to find our way through, there are different things you can do with music to help support people living with dementia. We produced a guide at the beginning of lockdown to offer ideas on how to use music which you can access on our website. We also have a Musical Map which lists online musical event happening that you can log onto, from singing groups to live concerts – they’re all listed in one place.

Covid has shown us many things, but for me it has highlighted the importance of music in supporting health and wellbeing, particularly for people living with dementia. If you would like to know more about how you can help to make music part of dementia care for someone you know today, please visit our website.

Music For Dementia (M4Dradio) website can be found here