Grace Meadows is Director of the national campaign, Music for Dementia. Here, she discusses the valuable role that music can play in enhancing and enriching the lives of people with dementia and how that can be facilitated through social prescribing.

Dementia Action Week is a perfect moment to be thinking about the vital role link workers can play in supporting people living with dementia to live as fulfilling a life as possible through socially prescribing music. One of the great joys of music is that it enables us to focus on what people can do, how they can contribute and be part of experiences to support their health and wellbeing.

As Dr. Jason Karlawish, project leader of makingsenseofalzheimers.org, says, “Dementia is a disease that is a humanitarian problem. It is a disease that’s wrapped up in our humanity and therefore the humanities are essential in helping to understand, make sense of and live with this disease.”

Depending on where a person is on their dementia journey they can take part in singing groups, listen to music with others or on their own, participate in music making or song-writing, even learn to play an instrument. The Musical Dementia Care Pathway shows the ways music can be introduced throughout this journey.

Research and lived experience

We process music cognitively, emotionally, physiologically, and socially across the whole brain. Our connection with music is innately built into us from before birth and it is still able to reach us even near the end of life. I regularly hear moving stories of people who connected with a certain tune or song which enabled them to be present in the here and now, even if only fleetingly.

There is also a robust and growing body of evidence to support the benefits of music for people living with dementia, demonstrating its impact and value. For example, music therapy has been shown to reduce agitation and the need for medication in 67% of people with dementia, while regular singing can reduce depression levels by 40% in care settings.

Choice and personalisation

Through the link worker’s role, people (and their support network) can be shown how to use music in a variety of ways as an integral part of care. It can help those in the early stages stay independent and active, aid personal care, support key moments such as mealtimes, provide focus, stimulation and a meaningful experience.

With personalisation as the key, music can and does make a significant difference in improving quality of life for those with dementia and those around them.

Start with a musical conversation. Ask: What music matters to you and why? What music relaxes you or gets you going? Which era of music do you enjoy? Build up a picture of a person’s musical preferences plus anything which may cause upset or agitation, as described in our Link Worker Guide.

Signposting

Suggest how to use this information to enhance every day, listening to a favourite playlist or radio station, or signpost people to a suitable activity online or in-person. The Musical Map for Dementia lists a large selection, from choirs to dementia discos, live and pre-recorded shows.

While there is no cure for dementia, let’s remember what it means to be human and support people through music to be seen for who they are beyond their dementia, and enable autonomy and choice-making – a right we all deserve to have preserved.

Grace Meadows, Director of Music for Dementia