17/04/2020 How music can help people with dementia during COVID-19

An older Asian women in a wheelchair wears headphones and listens to music on a tablet held up by another woman
The power of music for people with dementia

The 850,000 people who live with dementia in the UK and their carers are inevitably experiencing increased anxiety at being unable to spend time with relatives and loved ones at this time. Because of the pandemic, many can no longer take part in their normal support groups and community activities, leaving people more isolated and disconnected. We’re social beings and for many people, not having that physical, face to face contact right now will be distressing and disorientating.

We know that music is a universal and deep-seated experience that everyone can enjoy at any time, whether it is listening to a playlist of favourite songs, singing together, watching a musical on TV or playing a musical instrument. Crucially at this time, music is something that everyone can access and use in their own home, in a care home or a hospital through CDs, radio, television, and the internet on smartphones, laptops and tablets.

Music that is tailored to a person’s particular culture, lifestyle and interests can be a truly personalised and valuable part of their dementia care. So, during lockdown, people with dementia and their carers can still connect and feel better by listening, seeing and taking part together in the music they enjoy, be it online or a safe distance apart. For some, music can even be a bespoke therapeutic intervention to improve particular aspects of their mental and physical wellbeing such as agitation, breathing or mobility.


Our campaign, Music for Dementia 2020 has launched a Musical Guide for making the most of music’s powerful ability to connect people, particularly during COVID-19. It has been designed specifically with people living with dementia and their carers in mind, but it extends to everyone asmusic is something that connects us all. The guide includes ideas such as creating a playlist together, joining a virtual choir or singing group online. The guide has many useful links to advice and guidance on encouraging people to use music to stay connected with people living with dementia.

We are also building a Musical Map for Dementia of hundreds of local events and activities for people living with dementia across the UK. We have been overwhelmed by how many services have been able to rapidly move their offers online. From virtual singing groups popping up, streamed concerts and online music therapy sessions, the music continues. We are keen to capture on the map as many local examples of music for people living with dementia. You can add your service or find out what’s happening locally by visiting our website.

A musical social prescription

Before COVID-19, we were working with NHS England’s Personalised Care team on how music can be a social prescription within an overall care plan for people living with dementia. A musical social prescription can be developed through local link workers and GPs. In the coming months, we will be producing guidance to help music to be a part of this process.

As a campaign, we are calling for music to be a matter of routine in a person’s care plan. By that, we mean people’s musical choices being listed in their care plan, for staff to be aware of them, and for music to be used as a way of delivering meaningful and personalised care. We want its value to be recognised for people living with dementia, for their carers, family and friends, and the health and care system as a whole. As we have seen in recent times, the value of and need for music in our lives is something we can all connect with.

Social prescribing is going to be instrumental in enabling Music for Dementia to achieve its aim of making music available to everyone living with dementia and National Academy for Social Prescribing is fundamental to shaping the landscape. Right now, we can help people to appreciate the value of music and to use this intervention to connect with others at a time of particular difficulty. The Musical Map and Musical Guide are both already proving invaluable to both people living with dementia and their carers.


Grace Meadows is a Senior Music Therapist and Programme Director and Phil Hope is a Senior Associate at Music for Dementia.


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