Shop now open! Share your love of music and support Playlist for Life. Visit now.

Shop now open! Share your love of music and support Playlist for Life. Visit now.

Five Questions With… Mary McDougall

Every fortnight we sit down with a guest working in dementia care to bring you an insight to their role and experience of using meaningful music. This week we speak to Playlist for Life's very own Mary McDougall, who is responsible for managing and delivering our training.

Listen to Mary's personalised playlist at the end of the feature.

Hi Mary, thanks for taking the time to chat to us in-between training sessions.

Our first question is: What motivates you in your line of work?

I get to deliver training to passionate and caring trainees from across the UK who work in a variety of different care settings, from hospitals and care homes to hospices and in people’s homes. Watching them leave a training session excited to start using personal playlists in their work is massively motivating.  Even better than that, the training session is just the starting point, so further down the line I get to hear about some of the individuals they have made a playlist for and the difference it has made in their lives. 

I’ve heard of lots of amazing benefits for people living with dementia including someone speaking to their wife and singing along for the first time in months; a physio using music to connect with someone who didn’t want care and it helping to improve his walking; someone being able to steadily put on weight which helped with his general health. Regardless of whether it is a big result, or something seemingly small like making eye contact or smiling again, all these results mean so much to the person and their family, as well as the care professionals who know they have made that special moment happen.

Can you tell us about a time you have seen the power of music in action?  

One time that really sticks out was actually with a carer rather than a person living with dementia. She had attended a webinar aimed specifically at family members, and I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to anyone as stressed in my life.  For various reasons she was the sole carer for her husband and added into the mix were the Covid restrictions in place at the time, and sadly she had no local support of any kind.  We don’t usually make the playlists, we usually teach others how to do it, however it quickly became very clear that in this case making it was the best support we could provide.  She sent through two lists of songs, one for her husband and one for her.  I made the playlists on YouTube Music and followed up a few days later and it was like speaking to a completely different person. We spent the whole time talking about her playlist and how good it had made her feel to listen to her music again, and how she felt like she could cope better.  It was a real teaching moment for me, and we added it into our training and now encourage carers to make their own playlist too, for their own respite.

What do people who have completed training report back about its effectiveness? 

Apart from the actual results on the person living with dementia as I mentioned above, they also talk about how families are able to come together again. It’s not uncommon for a family to reduce the amount they visit or even stop altogether if they are not able to truly connect with their loved one. So hearing about the reaction it is has on families and how it brings them together again is really common.  It’s lovely to hear about the difference it can have on a staff team too.  I recently had someone feedback that they used the playlist training with their wider team and as a result ended up developing a connection with someone who they had worked with for over 10 years but they had never really known each other.  

What’s one thing you do for your own health that you would recommend to others? 

I’ve exercised on and off for years, and during Covid some of the team would have a lunch time zoom shared workout.  I confess I was horrified when someone first suggested it but, I joined in anyway.  Roll on a few years and myself and one of my colleagues still do a 20 minute workout on a Friday lunchtime when we can. We motivate each other to do it and are pretty rubbish at doing it when the other is not around, so I’d say having a training partner to spur you on and hold you to account would be my best tip.  We are all pretty good in the Playlist for Life office at getting out for a walk at lunch time, a simple screen break and some fresh air every day makes a huge difference.

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Mary's personal playlist

1812 Overture by Tchaikovsky 

It reminds me of being the in the car with my dad when I was wee, I loved the drama of the bells and canons at the end so would always beg him to play it and I think he was delighted that I shared his love for it.

Baby I Love You – Ramones
This was our first non-ceilidh song at our wedding.  As it turns out it’s not particularly easy to dance to with a room full of friends watching, but it’s still a song I really love.

Hey Jude by The Beatles 

This song takes me back to a trip to New York. We were walking back to the hotel through Central Park and discovered lots of people singing Beatles songs and the John Lennon memorial as it turns out it was the anniversary of his death. We stayed and joined in, it was such an unexpected highlight of our trip.

Jump by Van Halen

This brings back memories of a fun work road trip. My colleague was a DJ and would make mix tapes for our longer work trips, and this song was the first one on one of his cassettes.  Any time I hear it takes me back to my 20s when I lived in Edinburgh, regularly travelling down South in a convoy and drinking lots of red bull on the way home to stay awake.

Mandy by Barry Manilow

This makes me think of secondary school. My best friend was heavily influenced by her mum’s musical taste and they shared a love of him so his music would be the soundtrack of my weekly sleepovers.  I say in training sessions that the songs that will have made their way into your life will not necessarily be your favourite songs or very cool, and I think this song illustrates that point very well!