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Celebrating Excellence in Dementia Care

Music for Dementia won the Dementia Care Award at the Markel 3rd Sector Care Awards 2020.

The Dementia Care Award celebrates organisations that have provided outstanding dementia care. Due to its wide-reaching impact, Music for Dementia was recognised for championing the power of music to support people living with dementia.

The campaign was singled out for the creation of its accessible radio station, M4D Radio, which filled the gap left by the inability of musicians and music therapists to access care settings during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Continuing in a series of features celebrating 2020’s winners, Grace Meadows, Programme Director at Music for Dementia, reflects on the impressive momentum that the campaign has gathered since its inception.

Laying the groundwork

Receiving a £500,000 donation live on air was not something I or the team at Music for Dementia expected last autumn, as we celebrated the joy Paul and Nick Harvey had brought into people’s lives during the pandemic with their music. Knowingly or not, this moment of recognition for the campaign had come about as a result of years of work in developing Music for Dementia, a national campaign to make music an integral part of dementia care.

Rewind to 2014. The Utley Foundation, the charitable family foundation which backs the campaign, began laying the groundwork. It had ignited conversations with stakeholders from across various sectors and had itself been funding organisations working in the music and dementia space, asking along the way, ‘Why is music not an integral part of dementia care and how do we make it an integral part?’

What became apparent as a result of these conversations was just how fragmented the music and dementia space was, and whilst there were pockets of excellent work taking place across the country, it was often isolated and with no communication. There was no golden thread tying the work together.

Bringing people together

The foundation was aware of its role – it couldn’t be another player in the space, it needed to offer something different. The more we learnt about why music was not already embedded in care, the more we understood that we could not just act as a funder, but had to bring people together, act as a catalyst and build creative partnerships.

To do this, we needed to establish trust. We did this by establishing a commission and gathering high-quality and accurate data from over 1,500 leaders and experts from across sectors – health, social care, music, dementia, academic, the third sector, and most importantly people with lived experience. This enabled us to understand the existing landscape, gather the latest evidence, better understand the ecosystem, and help clarify what our role could be.

The commission report presented us with an invitation – a set of recommendations – that, if we were serious about making a meaningful impact on the lives of people living with dementia and their carers, we had an opportunity to run with. And we did just that.

Starting out small

We set about building a small but agile team that listened extensively to the sector, began building relationships, and brokered connections between players where they didn’t already exist. Out of these relationships the areas for influencing for change became apparent – awareness and understanding, policy, practice and collaboration. It was at this point that the Music for Dementia campaign came to life.
Building momentum and developing a relatable and meaningful narrative were key areas of activity. We appointed Lauren Laverne as our national ambassador, created a hub of information in our website and began bringing people together through the newly created Musical Care Taskforce.

Alongside this we continued to seek fund and support organisations across the country delivering a variety of musical services – from playlists to music therapy, live interactive music making sessions, dementia choirs and singing groups, work at the bedside, in hospital and hospices and much more.

Responding to the pandemic

As we were beginning to find our rhythm, and on the cusp of announcing a Musical Care Pledge for the health and care sectors, the pandemic struck, and we had to pivot significantly. It was clear the priority was keeping people safe and ensuring health needs were prioritised, but the non-medical impacts of the pandemic were rapidly becoming clear.

Exhaustion, trauma, bereavement, isolation, anxiety: people were living through daily rollercoasters of emotions, feelings and experiences, and didn’t necessarily have the skills or the support in place to help them manage these. For people living with dementia, their carers and families, they were particularly adversely affected by the pandemic and restrictions resulting in very traumatic experiences at home and in care settings.

After the initial rousing choruses of singing from balconies, online concerts and outdoor performances, it became evident that music was playing a critical role in helping communities all over the world manage and deal with the severe impacts of the pandemic. However, for obvious reasons, musicians and music therapists were unable to provide their vital musical services in person and, yet, we knew we needed to help keep the music going in care settings and people’s homes and in doing so could really highlight why music is so important for people with dementia.

Changing the conversation

It was at this point, we decided to launch our award-winning m4dradio.com, an online radio stream created specifically for people living with dementia and their carers. We went live in June 2020, having worked with people with lived experience to help us develop the content and programming. We knew this was not the answer to musicians and music therapists not being able to go into care settings, or people not being able to attend groups in the community, but it was helping to connect people across physical and emotional divides.

As we moved towards the autumn of 2020, we continued to talk with our stakeholders about the urgent and pressing needs that the financial implications of the pandemic were having on charities and not-for-profit organisations. At the same time, a moment of joy was being shared globally with Paul Harvey’s ‘Four Notes’ – an inspirational musical improvisation from a gentleman in his 80s which resonated with so many of us and changed the conversation around music and dementia for the better.

We were already in conversation with organisations about the support we could provide but that conversation took a different turn after Sir Tom and Lady Marion Hunter announced on BBC Breakfast that they were donating £1m to Paul and Nick Harvey to donate to their two chosen charities – the Alzheimer’s Society and Music for Dementia – after having followed Paul’s remarkable story and being moved by his beautiful music.

This wonderful act of generosity spurred us into action and from donation to dissemination, we were able to distribute £500,000 to 27 organisations across the UK providing a range of musical services for people with dementia. In doing so, we were able to support organisations to continue and for some to increase their offers.

What more can be done?

A year later and so much has happened. Not only as a result of the donation but because we have been able to have different conversations about the power of music. We have joined forces with UK Music, with ministerial support, to undertake a review into what more we can be doing with music to support health and wellbeing in the UK through music; we have continued to influence for system change and turned up the volume on the messaging around the vital need to make music an integral part of dementia care.

Awareness, however, is not enough in ensuring that the almost one million people in the UK with dementia have access to music as an integral part of their care. As we start recovering and rehabilitating from the pandemic, now is the time to think about what we can do better, and more of, in a post-COVID world. There are many people, either lifelong musicians or musical novices, who have had transformational experiences with dementia. Music can help someone to get up, washed and dressed in the morning or to have a meaningful connection in the here and now with a loved one.

We need to reimagine dementia care using the power of music and our vision for the future. Reading this today, will you join us to make that happen? The first step you can take in making that happen is signing up to the campaign today – www.musicfordementia.org.ukwww.musicfordementia.org.uk


Grace Meadows is Programme Director at Music for Dementia. Email: grace@musicfordementia.org.uk Twitter: @Grace_Meadows_

About Grace Meadows

Director of the Music for Dementia campaign, Grace Meadows has worked as a qualified music therapist in a variety of health, social care and educational settings with children and adults for the last decade.
Earlier experience includes the Music Manifesto and Sing Up, the national programme to reinstate singing in primary schools. Grace later worked for the British Association for Music Therapy, advocating for the inclusion of music and music therapy across health, social care and education.

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