Michelle Armstrong-Surgenor is the Executive Director at Playlist for Life. In this post, she explains the importance of connecting through music and raising awareness of the power of personal music for people living with dementia. The return of Playlist for Life’s Musical Tea Month is also previewed.

There are currently around 900,000 people living with dementia in the UK, set to rise to almost two million by 2050. Playlist for Life is a music and dementia charity. It was founded by writer and broadcaster Sally Magnusson in 2013 after the death of her mother, who lived with dementia. Our vision is to ensure that everyone living with the condition has access to a playlist of personally meaningful music; and that those who care for them know how to use it.  

The right key

It has been observed that our response to music is one thing that dementia cannot destroy – the key is introducing music that is personal to the listener. Think of the songs that give you that ‘flashback feeling’ whenever you hear them; that take you back to another time, person or place. Together, this music creates the soundtrack of your life.  

At Playlist for Life, we want to support people to live well with dementia by harnessing the power of meaningful music. Our work is based on more than two decades of research showing that personal music – the specific tunes attached to someone’s emotions that spark memories – can help those living with dementia by alleviating stress, managing symptoms and strengthening relationships with family members and carers. 

The benefits

In 2019, the World Health Organisation undertook a major study investigating the evidence for the health benefits of the arts. In this, a section on dementia found evidence of multiple specific benefits, including; reducing anxiety and depression, supporting cognition, speech and memory, reducing the need for antipsychotic drugs and fewer and shorter stays in hospital. We work closely with carers and professionals in dementia care to share the power of playlists when used in a care setting.

Grace, Deerhurst Care Home, said, ‘I couldn’t recommend it enough for everybody to try personalised playlists! It just adds that extra layer of personality and knowledge for us about the resident’s likes and preferences. With somebody who gets anxious, we can try to use the music as a tool first rather than medication, which can have a great positive impact.’   

Music before medicine

As evidence-based research in this field continues to grow, we are passionate about embedding personalised playlists in the care sector, championing the profound effects of music before medicine. Since 2013, we have trained over 8,500 healthcare professionals and students, and helped embed playlists in 300+ care homes across the UK. 

Our courses are designed to give individuals and care establishments all the knowledge and skills they need to use personalised playlists in their work. They also act to inspire, with real-life stories showing the powerful benefits music can bring to those living with dementia.  

Helen Skinner, Alzheimer Scotland Dementia Nurse Consultant, NHS Fife, said, ‘Playlist for Life training is just an excellent way that I can support staff to deliver that person centred care to people with dementia on the wards. The staff said about experiences of singing along, dancing with patients, chatting about music – that it really helped them get to know that patient as a person, and not just a patient with a diagnosis.’

Around 60% of people with dementia live at home in the community. We partner with over 1,900 community organisations offering dementia support in their local area as Playlist for Life Help Points, who play a pivotal role in helping us to increase our reach and raise awareness of personalised playlists.

Musical Tea Month

Awareness raising activities are vital for us to support people living with dementia so this April, after a two-year hiatus, we see the return of our Musical Tea Month. Whether hosting a Musical Tea virtually or in-person, bring people together to share in the joy of music and memories.

It’s free to sign up, and we provide a resource pack with everything needed to plan an event, plus activity ideas and recipes to use on the day. Musical Teas are a fun, free way to introduce personal music into your care plan and spark conversations that could evoke memories for your residents. Request a free Musical Tea pack today and help us raise awareness of the power of personal music for dementia.

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Sally Campton, The Abbeyfield Society, said, ‘A resident may not remember what it is that happened, but they’ll remember how it makes them feel, and that feeling lasts. Music has the power to do that.’

Share the power of personalised playlists and bring the profound benefits of personal music to staff and residents in dementia care. Visit www.playlistforlife.org.uk today.