Being able to respond to music – the first sense in the foetus and the last to go at the end of life – is the one thing dementia cannot destroy.

Listening to music

If you have dementia, the music that has been meaningful in your life – even TV theme tunes or Christmas carols – can make you feel better. Having access to that music on an iPod means it is available to you at any time of the day or night.

It also helps family carers, relatives, friends, health professionals, care home staff and volunteers. They will all be richly rewarded by their experience of helping people to reconnect with their identity.

Researchers have highlighted the potential for music to alleviate dementia symptoms such as anxiety and agitation, reducing the need for medication. Research has also shown that even the smallest improvements may delay or negate the need for someone with dementia to go into institutional care. That’s why we believe that the development and widespread use of this simple, low-cost intervention will in the longer term benefit the economy and wider society.

It’s been shown that if people with dementia are offered frequent access to the music in which their past experience and memories are embedded, it can:

  • Improve their present mood.
  • Improve their awareness.
  • Improve their ability to understand and think.
  • Help their sense of identity and independence.

We advocate iPods because, wonderful though a live music experience can be, you can’t scale up a concert or choir to be on hand every time someone needs the solace or stimulation of their own music, at any moment of the day or night.

Family members, either looking after someone at home or visiting them in residential care, find that sharing their loved one’s music can help recover the closeness of a relationship and bring structure to what is often a long day or a difficult visit.

Here are some of the reasons why this approach to dementia is so successful:

  1. If music is personal enough there is an effect on autobiographical memory.  At the very least it brings a sense of safeness and belonging and familiarity in a world that comes to feel increasingly alien to the person with dementia.
  2. Human interaction is what people with dementia desperately need and so frequently lack, often because those who love them become increasingly stumped at how to engage them. Sharing a playlist brings people together.  That in itself is a therapy.
  3. The very act of compiling a unique playlist for somebody means getting to know that person better, understanding the key moments of their life, their tastes and their personality. For those in the healthcare sector this approach embodies all the principles of person-centred care.


Supported by research evidence

There is a growing body of international research pointing to the efficacy of personal music in dementia care.

We are also collaborating with Glasgow Caledonian University to produce our own research and we encourage all NHS hospitals doing Playlist for Life pilots to evaluate the intervention using emotional touchpoints.