Music and Dementia

Listening to, and enjoying music, is a universal experience. It reflects and directs our mood, and now innovative and more convenient ways of delivering content makes it easier to listen to music and enjoy it at our convenience.

Music and memory have a powerful connector. Music lights up emotional memories, everyone remembers songs from their past. Music can have many benefits in the setting of dementia. It can help reduce anxiety and depression, help maintain speech and language, is helpful at the end of life, enhances quality of life and has a positive impact on carers.

There are three main ways in which people with dementia, their families and carers can enjoy and benefit from music.

The first, and potentially the most important, is that listening to music provides a ready resource for enjoyment and entertainment, especially when shared with families and loved ones in a shared experience. A bit like walking, it is something everyone can do for little or no cost. Music should be specifically tailored to the choices of individuals and people with dementia are well able to express those preferences.

Secondly, there are a number of initiatives specifically developing bespoke playlists for carers and loved ones for people with dementia. This can facilitate sharing and positive interactions and there is increasing evidence that musical memory may be different to the kind of day to day memories that can be affected in dementia. There is some evidence that retaining memory for music enjoyed between the ages of 10 and 30 is much more enduring. Rekindling these can have s beneficial effect.

There are many stories and examples where music in care homes and institutions is extraordinarily effective at brining people together and stimulating memories. Memorable stories of individuals who were withdrawn and apathetic who have been brought back to life by listening to their favourite music, and most people will be aware of the positive benefits of "singing for the brain". Music can go places where other things do not and the shared experience and friendships can have a positive benefit.

Thirdly, in terms of expert musicians, there are famous examples: Aaron Copland and Ravel who suffered from dementia and more recently Glenn Campbell, one of the worlds most famous country and western singers, was able to perform relatively late into his illness.