There is emerging and convincing evidence that listening to and playing music can help patients suffering from dementia.
Surveys show that even if they no longer speak or respond, dementia sufferers are often able to communicate and engage through music, tapping into forgotten memories and emotions.
The most recent study, published in January, was carried out by a commission set up by an International Longevity Centre UK (ILC-UK) Thinktank and the Utley Foundation. It strongly urges more action to raise awareness, increase funding and ensure that more people can access this form of therapy.
“Music has tangible, evidence-based benefits for people with dementia,” Sally Bowell, Research Fellow of ILC-UK, says in the Report. “[Music helps to] minimise the behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia, tackling depression and anxiety, and, importantly, helping to improve quality of life.”
The survey consulted experts, specialists, and existing evidence, as well as utilising site visits to observe dementia projects in action. It found that the symptoms of hundreds of thousands of people with dementia could significantly improve when they listened to and played music.
“Evidence suggests,” it states, “That there is a ‘memory bump’ for music. It appears that people with dementia retain the clearest memories for music they enjoyed and heard between roughly the ages of 10 and 30. This valuable insight offers us the opportunity to connect with loved ones with dementia, by understanding what might be most meaningful for them.”
One woman quoted in the research said of her 62 year old husband, who has dementia, “Music is now the one thing I can share with… [him] that seems to give him pleasure.”
There are currently around 850,000 people with dementia in the UK with an annual cost of over £26bn. This is expected to rise to 1 million by 2025 with a cost of £50bn. The Report says that considerable savings may be achievable if the onset of this chronic disorder can be delayed. “We are calling on the music industry, the public sector, clinicians, charities, the technology sector and others to recognise and champion the right of people with dementia to have access to music.”
Many music students, as well as more experienced musicians, choirs and entertainers now visit care homes and day centres to perform, something that is beneficial for the residents as well as rewarding for the musicians themselves. Organisations such as Singing For The Brain, Music For Life, Lost Chord, Golden Oldies and Live Music Now have made it possible for most care homes to have access to live musicians, both professional and amateur.
Yet as the ILC-UK Report makes clear, only 5% of care homes are using music therapy effectively. It is calling for the NHS to promote music therapy and for there to be an ambassador for dementia and music, and a national campaign to ensure that these benefits are recognised.
Photo: Linda Darling