Music therapy for those with Dementia

July 13, 2018

The increasing prevalence of Dementia

As our ageing population continues to increase, Dementia is fast becoming the health and social care challenge of the 21st century. The NHS estimates that 850,000 people have dementia in the UK today. By 2020 the total number is set to be around 1 million with over 3,500 in Kirklees alone. While there is currently no cure, there are a number of things which can help ease the challenges faced by someone who is living with the condition and their family.

Dementia and music

Music, particularly singing, is increasing becoming a key treatment for those with Dementia to help unlock memories. It can be used to reach beyond the disease and reach the person.

Music accesses a different part of the brain to language. In fact, people begin to respond to music from around 16 weeks old, before words are developed, and this continues right to the end of our lives, when verbal abilities may be lost. As a result, music can be used to communicate with someone with Dementia even if they can no longer speak – they may still be able to sing, clap or whistle. Music evokes emotion, and emotion can bring with it memory. It can bring back the feeling of life when nothing else can.

What are the benefits of music?

  • It can become an avenue for communication and engagement helping people express feelings and ideas
  • It can lead to enhanced brain function and information recall
  • It encourages social interaction helping people connect with others around them and reducing social isolation
  • It helps facilitate physical exercise through dance and movement
  • It can tap into powerful memories and emotions, for example by playing their wedding song or favourite childhood song
  • It can help with mood and reduce stress and anxiety

How to use music?

  • Play music that means a lot to the person such as their first wedding dance or a favourite song from their youth. If you aren’t sure, check their music collection if they have one or find out what the popular songs were in their generation.
  • See how the person reacts. Do they react well, perhaps through smiling, humming or tapping their finger? If they seem unhappy, turn the music off before trying a different song at a later date.

Things to consider when using music

  • Start with quiet music but make it the focal point by putting the speaker in front of the person.
  • Be aware that music can awaken negative emotions as well as positive ones, so watch the person closely for any signs of discomfort and turn the music off if it is causing distress.