With Dementia Action Week 2022 focussing on diagnosis, it’s important for family and carers to know how they can use music to support people living with dementia.
Music, in all its many forms, can help create routines for anyone living with dementia. And as well as evoke memories it can also bring joy. This is especially beneficial when they’re feeling down as it can create a feeling of calm if they’re agitated or overwhelmed.
Music is such a powerful tool in dementia care.
How Music Can Help With Dementia
While lots will be happening around the point of diagnosis now is a good time to have some musical conversations that can help establish what music matters to your loved one. The more personalised music you use, the more benefits it’s likely to have in the long run. Ask questions about what genres of music they enjoy most, and the specific artists and eras they fondly recall. Individual songs from their favourite films or momentous days, such as weddings, can also be really powerful. Make a note of these conversations as they can help you prepare personalised playlists now and in the future.
With digital music so readily available, it’s easier than ever to put together personalised playlists for people with dementia. You can create different playlists to impact and change moods, or for different times and activities in the day. Getting going in the morning can be tricky for some but a playlist with uplifting and much loved songs can help with motivation and get them into a positive state. Similarly, when things get too much and they’re feeling agitated, turn on a calming playlist. This soothing, slower paced music, can help to reassure and comfort.
You can also use playlists to listen together, sing, dance or hold hands because songs that resonate are also perfect for creating moments of connection.
Music From Teenage Years
If you’ve been able to have musical conversations, you’ll already know what kind of music to include. If you don’t know or are unsure about the musical taste of the person you’re caring for, research shows we recall music from our teenage years the best. So it’s worth thinking about what songs would have been popular in those decades.
If you’re unsure about how to put together a playlist using online streaming services, perhaps a family member could help. Playlists can come in many forms — online, through smart TVs or mix tapes/CDs. Think about what technology your loved one feels comfortable using (and that you’re able to support them in using) to help make it easy to access the music they love.
Singing can be a lovely way to connect
Singing is something we can all do, whatever we think of our voices. At home, singing together can be a lovely way to connect with the person you’re caring for. Outside of the home, you may consider finding a dementia singing group or choir your loved one can join. Choirs can offer stimulation, encourage social interaction and reduce social isolation and loneliness. This will give your loved one the opportunity to feel part of a group. And it will give you the chance to find support from the family, friends and carers of other members.
Music can enhance and enrich the quality of care. Whether that’s helping to provide distraction during personal care or support at mealtimes.
Talk with your healthcare practitioner about making music an integral part of your loved one’s personalised care plan. How is music already used in the care setting? Could there be more music provided and when would be the best time for this to happen?
Also discuss with them all the points in your loved one’s day when music might have a role to play.
Music has been shown to be the best type of therapy for reducing the behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia. But don’t assume that healthcare professionals will automatically include music in care plans.
Music Can Help A Loved One Who Has Dementia
Coming to terms with and processing what a diagnosis of dementia means can take time and give rise to a range of emotions and feelings. And these feelings need to be expressed and worked through.
Working with a music therapist can be particularly beneficial for those who aren’t able to describe their feelings and emotions using language.
For some, the privacy of individual sessions allows people their own safe space to work through emotions, which may be too much to share with others. For some, group music therapy sessions enable them to share their experiences, letting them know they’re not alone.
Read more from “The People’s Friend” on dementia.