How Music Can Help those living with Dementia

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Music and Dementia

Looking after a family member with dementia can be a difficult task, both emotionally and practically. Seeing them struggle to understand the world around them can be heartbreaking, and can make tasks that would normally be easy - such as eating or taking a bath - much harder. However, music could provide the answer to both of these, according to new research.

If you think about it, you can probably identify at least a dozen songs that provide you with happy memories. Maybe there’s a punk track you remember dancing to as a teenager, the song to which you had your first dance at your wedding, or even a nursery rhyme you used to sing to your children.

Music has a unique ability to evoke emotions of happiness and nostalgia, and this is to do with the parts of the brain it activates. According to research published in The Lancet, these areas are among those not affected by dementia, meaning music can help access fragments of memories in sufferers who would otherwise struggle to remember anything.

This is something recommended by Glasgow-based charity Playlist For Life, founded by Scottish broadcaster Sally Magnusson. Andy Lowndes, the organisation’s deputy chair, told Reuters Health how creating a playlist for a loved one suffering from dementia can be an incredibly useful tool for therapy.

“One of the biggest challenges we have in our society is that so many people are living longer and developing dementia later in life,” he said. Drug-based therapies have so far proven ineffective, which is why the charity is focused on “non-pharmaceutical approaches”, he explained.

To help dementia sufferers, a playlist around half an hour in length is recommended. This can be filled with a range of songs, intended to spark an emotional response in patients. Playlist For Life recommends starting with popular songs from the years when the sufferer was aged between 10 and 30, as this tends to be when many of our big life milestones occur. They have provided a database of tracks from each decade to help out with this.

Then add tracks you know have a personal connection for your loved one. Mr Lowndes gave an example: “One of the songs on my playlist comes from My Fair Lady, which my father would put on every Sunday to see who would wash the dishes to not listen to the music.”

Finally, try to include some songs connected with your loved one’s heritage and identity. This can be church hymns, songs sung at sporting events, national anthems or tracks written in the sufferer’s native language if they grew up in another country.

Playlist For Life recommends trying out the playlist around half an hour before any difficult activity, such as bathing. This can relax dementia sufferers, giving them a sense of happiness and activating positive memories so they don’t feel as distressed by situations they don’t understand.

Music is just one of many options available to people looking after dementia patients to ensure they have the best possible quality of life while dealing with the condition. However, if you need further support you can always look into options such as live-in care. At CareBIG, we can connect you to excellent professionals while also saving you money. Click here to find out more.