The Commission on Dementia and Music has called on local authorities and the NHS to recognise the ‘therapeutic potential of music’, saying it is a ‘powerful but under-used tool’.

Its report ‘What would life be – without a song or dance, what are we?’ claims high quality arts and music provision may currently only be available in just five per cent of care homes.

The Commission, which has been created by The International Longevity Centre – UK (ILC-UK), with support from The Utley Foundation, found music may help in the recall of information for people with dementia and playing a musical instrument may help prevent the disease.

Music also has the potential to minimise the behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia (BPSD) such as agitation, abnormal vocalisation and aggression as well as reducing anxiety and depression, according to the Commission.

Music is not just a ‘nice add-on’

Neil Utley from The Utley Foundation said: “Music is not a ‘nice add-on’, it has tangible, evidence based benefits and reaches out beyond the home to the care sector, hospitals, hospices and across the wider community.

“People with dementia often live in a silent world. Yet music can bring a person back to life. The ability to connect to music is an innate aspect of being human; having a diagnosis of dementia need not undermine this”.

Other benefits are its ability to help people retain speech and language, enhance quality of life, help with end of life care and also aid care workers to better understand residents.

Baroness Sally Greengross, chief executive of ILC-UK, who sits on the Commission on Dementia and Music, points out that “despite growing evidence of the value of music for people with dementia, we are not seeing enough being done to improve access to appropriate music-based activities. When talking about specialist music therapy, current availability only equates to roughly 30 seconds per week per person with dementia, meaning that very few individuals are benefitting from this valuable intervention”.

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.

‘Every person should have access to a music playlist by 2020’

One of the recommendations of the Commission for Dementia and Music is for every person with dementia to have access to a music playlist by 2020. Over the last couple of years, a growing number of care homes have been creating personalized music playlists for their residents after research showed people with dementia who listened to music tailored to their tastes and memories, needed less anti-anxiety and anti-psychotic medication.

The music playlists are created for residents by care workers based on their personal history and music preferences.

Sarah Metcalfe, chief executive of the charity, Playlist for Life, which provides tools, training and information to help people understand and use the power of music, said: “This report confirms that music is a powerful but under-used tool for people living with dementia and calls for everyone living with the disease to have access to a unique personal playlist by 2020.”

Ms Metcalfe, who also sits on the Commission and helped draw up the report, added: “A personal playlist is a cheap, simple and powerful way for someone with dementia to harness the power of music to live with the disease. Your playlist for life is all the music that gives you that ‘flashback feeling’ when you hear it.

“Over the next two years we need to make it general knowledge that something as simple as your playlist for life can make living with dementia easier for those with the condition, their families and carers. Playlist for Life offers information and tools to help families find the right music for a loved one and trains health and care workers in how to schedule listening to improve care.”

#MusicCan campaign

To coincide with the publication of the report, the charity Music as Therapy International, has launched its #MusicCan campaign to highlight the many ways music can have a positive impact on the lives of every individual, no matter their circumstance or background.

Alexia Quin, founder and director of Music as Therapy International, said: “We are launching our campaign to highlight and celebrate the power and impact music can have for every one of us.”

“This report clearly highlights the massive part music has to play in the care of people with dementia. Not only is music adaptable for people with different forms of the disease, it has no known negative impacts, especially when compared to the use of anti-psychotic medications.”

As part of the campaign, the charity are sharing a collection of short films demonstrating the effect music can have on improving care. They are also encouraging the general public to get involved under the #MusicCan hashtag and share their own personal thoughts and feelings on what music can do for them.

For more information about the work of Music as Therapy International and their #MusicCan campaign please visit www.musicastherapy.org

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