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Music and dementia
Maintaining momentum

A year ago, The Utley Foundation asked, ‘What would life be?’ for people living with dementia if music, in all its rich variety of forms, was properly utilised. Here, Grace Meadows from Music for Dementia 2020 provides an update on progress and shares tips for implementing best practice.

In 2017, the International Longevity Centre (ILC-UK) was commissioned to research the power of music on dementia, with the aim of producing a clear set of recommendations about what needed to be done in this space. This included looking at the ecosystem – what was happening, where and how, where the gaps in provision were – and the evidence base.

Experts in dementia, music, health and care, and, importantly, people who were living with dementia, presented findings at the House of Lords in January 2018. The recommendation: the creation of a centralised and interactive website to provide information and expertise on how music is essential for people living with dementia and their carers.

Until recently, the growing opportunities and power that music brings to the support of people living with dementia were not being recognised or contained. Research, evidence and musical expertise all over the country was disparate and fragmented.

Music for Dementia 2020 is mobilising and bringing together the spectrum of different musical activities available, to help people find the right music for them, at the right time and in the right ways.

Music-based interventions for people with dementia can range widely, including community-based music groups, live music in care homes, listening to the radio or recorded music, playing an instrument, music therapy, or using personalised playlists. These should all be considered by providers as ways of supporting people with dementia.

Key developments since 2018

The recommendations in the ILC-UK report were a much-needed call to action. Since the report, The Utley Foundation has begun creating a national taskforce of stakeholders across the music, dementia, health and social care sectors, from people living with dementia through to MPs.

The aim is to help improve the quality of life for people living with dementia through music. To achieve this, Music for Dementia 2020 has a clear vision to:

  • Develop cross-sector support to make music readily available and accessible for people living with dementia.
  • Create a collective understanding across society that music is a necessity for people living with dementia and they need access to it now.

There is some excellent work happening across the UK to ensure that people living with dementia do have access to music across a range of settings.

There is a lot of music-making that happens in people’s homes, communities, concert halls, care settings and acute settings, such as hospitals and hospices. But there are many places where there is little or no activity and this is where efforts are being concentrated to encourage the introduction of music as part of everyday life.

Organisations are also working to make their music offer sustainable so that it doesn’t just last for the duration of its funding – they are looking at moving to models where the value and quality of their offer is driving investment and long-term commitment and support from commissioners.

What still needs to be done?

Sadly, we know that this work is not happening in all areas across the UK and that provision is patchy. This could be down to a lack of awareness or budgetary constraints, but the use of music to support people with dementia needs to be ingrained in the culture of care to ensure widespread uptake.

We want to scale-up the excellent work that is already happening, so that it can be accessed by more people more widely, for example, expanding programmes such as Live Music Now, Playlist for Life, Music in Mind and Together in Sound. We are also aiming to help introduce music where it isn’t already being utilised to support people with dementia.

Ultimately, we want people living with dementia and those caring for them to be able to access a range of musical activities, from playlists and performances, to interactive, participatory music-making and music therapy. All of these are already available, but practitioners and services need to be supported to grow and spread across the UK so that everyone living with dementia has access to the musical experiences that they want to participate in.

There is growing understanding and awareness of the positive role music has to play in supporting people living with dementia; the future will see music, and the arts more generally, being valued and recognised as essential for people living with dementia. This will mean that access to, and quality of, the music offer is the same across the country regardless of postcode. We will see a future where quality of life for people living with dementia is at the heart of their care and music will be the channel for making this happen.

Implementing best practice

Making music available means promoting and supporting the whole spectrum of music activities to be available for people living with dementia. The care sector is encouraging availability of choice across the UK as a way to provide person-centred care, and music is not to be excluded from this. In order to ensure that people are having a truly personalised experience with music, people should be able to make choices about what types of musical activities they want to participate in – if they’d rather listen to music than join in with singing, this option should be available to them.

This is very much aligned to the personalised care agenda recently announced as part of the Long Term Plan.

Music, care and health organisations are all supporting the Music for Dementia 2020 campaign through involvement with The Utley Foundation’s taskforce. The Music for Dementia 2020 team are encouraging organisations to share the messaging – helping to increase awareness and understanding, and increase delivery of their musical offers. This is happening through collaboration at both local and national levels.

At a national level, conversations are being had with the care and health sectors to bring about greater awareness and understanding of the role of music in the care of people living with dementia. At Music for Dementia 2020, we are currently working with the NHS and Social Prescribing Network to embed music into social prescribing, supporting health practitioners to understand the benefits of music.

We encourage providers to talk to us and their local music services – work with music practitioners to map the needs and look at where you could add more music and what kind of musical offerings are already available. Develop more group activity or music therapy, create personalised playlists and invest in devices so that everyone has access to their own music. It is also important to look at training for care staff, so they feel confident and comfortable leading music sessions and incorporating music into care routines.

On a local level, we would like to see care providers linking more with local music practitioners and organisations, developing ways of working together that are sustainable and meaningful. This could be creating a link with a local orchestra, community music group, local music and arts venue, music therapy service or school. The Music for Dementia 2020 website could help with facilitating these links.

Increasing awareness

The benefits of music for people living with dementia are well-publicised, with huge potential. We must push for more awareness of what providers can do to use music in their services and encourage uptake of different types of activity to ensure we are all providing the best person-centred support for people who need it most.

Case study: Monkscroft Care Centre – Live Music in Care

Monkscroft Care Centre, operated by The Orders of St John Care Trust (OSJCT), participated in the Live Music in Care project with Live Music Now from November 2017 and completed 11 sessions with the Live Music Now musicians, David Insua-Cao and Louis Bingham. Live Music Now works with a diverse range of people who rarely have the opportunity to experience live music due to circumstance or disadvantage.

David and Louis visited Monkscroft regularly, providing interactive music sessions for residents, including people living with dementia, and the home’s team.

The benefits for residents’ wellbeing was clear. Residents built new relationships with the musicians but also developed their existing relationships with the care team.

The sharing of skills had an enormous impact on everyone. One of the songs that the whole group really enjoyed was ‘Space is the Place’. It was a new song that was unknown to the whole group and everyone was able to learn it together.

There was a definite individual impact on residents too. Dorota Lane, a member of Monkscroft’s Care Team, noticed that one resident, who was living with dementia and had minimal verbal communication, particularly enjoyed one of the songs so she began singing with them on a daily basis. The resident began to participate more during the project due to this encouragement and now engages more with the care team during the day through music which supports her wellbeing.

The team has gained valuable experience and confidence in arranging their own musical engagement with residents, including as part of their approach to dementia care. Charlotte Turville, OSJCT Care Leader, said, ‘The project has boosted my confidence in engaging in impromptu singalongs and I feel I can happily go to the karaoke machine and sing along with the residents any time during the day. I was also able to share my experiences of the project with my colleagues.’

Charlotte and her colleagues are now using music on a one-to-one basis with residents throughout the day and have recently started a residents’ choir that will perform for residents’ families.

Sabrina Trovato, a member of the OSJCT care team, expressed how she saw the value and importance of music for residents and began to gain confidence throughout the project. She is now involved regularly in meaningful musical activities and her new-found confidence has enabled her to begin leading her own aromatherapy sessions within the home.

This collaboration really empowered the care team to continue to support meaningful activities within the care centre such as salsa classes, aromatherapy and more for the benefits of residents including those in the dementia specialist household.

Ewa Cwiklak, OSJCT Activity Co-ordinator, said, ‘Music is so powerful, especially for those living with dementia. I attended the recent Music Care conference at the University of Nottingham where I was able to share the benefits from the project and what we were able to achieve at Monkscroft. I felt I empowered those around me to use music more within care their settings.’

Bogumil Cwiklak, Monkscroft Home Manager, noted, ‘The team felt inspired and took ownership of the project for the benefit of the residents’ wellbeing. It is wonderful to see how residents and the team developed their new skills. Everyone feels much more included in life at the home.’ 

Grace Meadows is Programme Director at Music for Dementia 2020. Email: Twitter: @Grace_Meadows_ @music4dem2020

What are you doing to encourage music activities in your service? How can musical offerings for people with dementia be improved? Share your ideas and provide your feedback on this article below.

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