16/5/2022 0 Comments
To mark Dementia Action Week, we are very grateful to Dr Fiona Costa for writing this guest blog on practical suggestions for using music in the care of people with dementia.
Dr Fiona Costa originally trained at the Royal College of Music. Her lifelong interest in music, together with a calling to a ministry with older people, has led to a range of different initiatives and interests. As a research fellow at the University of Roehampton, her principal research interest is the effect of music on the wellbeing and quality of life of older people. Her PhD and subsequent research projects have studied how music can alleviate pain, stress, anxiety and depression. Her most recent work focuses on the use of music to assist in maintaining memory and the ability to communicate in people with dementia.
One way of engaging with music is simply to listen to it.
People often ask me what music they should choose for people with dementia to listen to. What is most effective? This is a key question. And the answer lies with each individual person. What music do they enjoy? What music have they listened to throughout their lives? There is no point playing them some Bach or Mozart if they have never shown any particular liking for that music. They may hate classical music. Instead, try to find out what music they have experienced through their life and what music they love.
Here are some questions you can ask – either of the person you are caring for, or if that is not possible, their friends and family.
By asking questions such as these, you can start to put together a playlist of music that means something to the person or people that you are looking after. Try and find music with different moods – some more lively music and some calm music. They can be used in different situations.
Here are some websites that can help you:
Once you have a playlist, what is the best way of using it?
Here are a few ideas. Every person is different, so try them out and see what is most helpful for your situation. Think about the mood of the music that you select – different situations require different moods. And individuals may have particular preferences.
You may find that listening to music in these ways brings a range of benefits. Some can be observed straight away, some accrue over time. For example, there may be an improvement in mood, a lessening of anxiety, an increased awareness of other people and their surroundings, and even some temporary improvement in understanding. Of course, everyone is different and some people will respond more positively than others. You may also find that, over time, your own wellbeing is improved, both from the music itself and from a lessening of the caregiver burden.
A few notes about how to listen to the music.
The ideas above just relate to listening to music. Of course, there are other activities that you can try which involve more participation. Here is just one of them. People with severe dementia who have lost the ability to interpret spoken instructions may respond better if instructions are given in song. You could, for example, sing an instruction for them to stand up (or whatever it is that you are asking them to do) – either by putting the words to a well-known song or by making something up on the spot. It doesn’t have to be a masterpiece! Called caregiver singing, recent research studies have shown promising results. It is definitely worth a try.
Find out more - free information packs
These ideas are just a start. I have concentrated on those suitable for someone caring for an individual person with dementia – for those working in care homes, there are so many other ideas and activities that you can try in group situations and in the wider community. If you are interested in discovering more, I have some simple, easy to follow, information packs that my colleague Professor Adam Ockelford and I have put together. If you would like a free set, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send you one.