Personalised playlists for residents with dementia reduces need for medication

Blog Image 1

Care homes in the UK have been creating personalized music playlists for their residents, after research showed people with dementia who listened to music tailored to their tastes and memories, needed less anti-anxiety and anti-psychotic medication.

The study by researchers from Brown University in the US found individual music lists had a ‘calming or pleasurable effect’ on care home residents, with care homes reporting an improvement in residents’ behaviour and less need for medication.

Balhousie Care Group in Scotland has trained up some of its care workers on compiling personal playlists. It joined forces with the charity Playlist for Life which was founded by broadcaster Sally Magnusson, who lost her mother to dementia.

Playlist for Life wants every person with dementia, whether living at home or in a care home, to have a playlist of personally meaningful music from key moments in their life, available on an iPod, tablet or phone.

The charity believes personalized music playlists can also reduce pain. It has a very useful Personalised Music Assessment Tool which measures the impact of the playlist on pain as well as a number of other factors.

Abbeyfield Society, which runs care homes and extra care housing, has also now embraced the concept and is training over 200 care workers and volunteers to become music detectives and compile different music that has significant meaning for people with dementia.

April Dobson, head of dementia and innovation at Abbeyfield said: “Therapeutic benefits of music are already well documented, and there is growing evidence that personally meaningful music can amplify those effects.

“We can all think of music that gives us ‘that flashback feeling’ and transports us back to another time, person or place in our lives. That music can become a lifeline if you develop dementia because it is deeply attached to your memories and emotions. It can soothe, calm and comfort and also make us feel alive. That’s exactly the experience we want to be able to provide for people living with us who have dementia.”

Abbeyfield staff are being trained up as it can be difficult piecing together songs which are significant to someone with dementia. “They may not be able to speak or remember the songs that have left an audial footprint on their lives. That’s why we are training up staff and volunteers to become music detectives looking for clues and identifying music that triggers autobiographical memory and instils a sense of identity and belonging for people with dementia,” added Ms Dobson.

The Abbeyfield Making Music project uses tools and training developed by Playlist for Life, with the project being supported by The People’s Postcode Trust.

Playlist for Life chief executive Sarah Metcalfe said: “Abbeyfield is the first care group to deliver playlists into every one of their homes in this strategic way. It is really exciting to be working with them as they lead the way on personal music for dementia.

“Music is neurologically special because it stimulates so many parts of the brain at once. Even if dementia has damaged one part of the brain it can still reach those other parts almost as if it gets ‘in through the back door’ to access memories and abilities that had been thought lost.

“We teach people to become music detectives, giving them skills and tips about how to find the music that is personally meaningful to an individual. Were they part of a choir? Is there old sheet music about? Do relatives or friends remember them enjoying a particular film or going to the cinema?”

Care workers are then taught how to incorporate the playlists they have built into care plans and use the music to help people do the things they may find difficult, like eating or bathing, says Ms Dobson.

Anita Pascoe is an activities coordinator at Abbeyfield Stow Park in Newport, Wales which was the first certified Playlist care home in the UK.

She admits she was “sceptical about the project at first” but says: “I have seen the difference it can make. Many of the people living with us have very complex needs, but the music can help on so many levels. It helps relax them, helping at meal times and bathing – and it does unlock their memories, which is lovely for their families. To see couples who have been so devoted to each other being brought together by music which connects them brings a tear to your eye. It is lovely.”

For more information about Playlist for Life go to https://www.playlistforlife.org.uk/

Written by Davina Ludlow, chair of carehome.co.uk, leading care homes reviews site