Harnessing the Power of Music in Dementia Care

In this article, local MSP Kenneth Gibson reports on the work of the charity Playlist for Life, and tells of the effect music has on people living with dementia as well as on their carers.

Music is everywhere and an important part of our lives. The charity Playlist for Life is the country’s leading music and dementia charity and works towards its vision that every person with dementia should have access to a unique personal playlist and everyone who loves and cares for them should know how to use it to make living with the condition easier and happier.

The charity was founded in 2013 by Scottish writer and broadcaster Sally Magnusson, following the death of her mother, Mamie Baird, in 2012. During Mamie’s eight years of living with dementia, Sally discovered that music had the power to unlock memories.

This concept is supported by over 20 years of scientific research demonstrating that listening to a personal playlist can make living with dementia easier and happier. Music has many positive effects, leading to reductions in the use of psychotropic medication and restraints, as well as decreases in distress and wandering.

These personal playlists can be used in many different situations. Listening and enjoying being together and responding to the music, is one of the best parts of having a playlist and a great way to spend a visit with family or friends. On a bad day, family members or friends can use their loved one’s playlist as a chance to take a breather. Research also shows that listening to the playlist half an hour before something difficult – like bath time or getting dressed – may make things easier for dementia suffers. Playlists can also be used when meeting someone new, as talking about the songs on the playlist is a great icebreaker.

Building a personal playlist means exploring someone’s life story to find the tunes that are most deeply attached to memories and emotions; essentially creating the soundtrack of their life. Each person’s playlist is as unique as they are.

Playlist for Life also provides free training and materials to community organisations so that they can create “help points” to spread the power of music locally and advise families on how to create their own personal playlists that relate to a person’s life.

Across Scotland, 23 establishments including care homes and NHS centres have now completed Playlist for Life training and incorporate playlists into their care provision.

To learn more about the incredible service that Playlist for Life provides and find out about how to get involved, contact 0141 404 0683 or visit their website