Research Summary: June 2018

Playlist for Life takes an evidence-led approach to our work and, from our foundation, the charity has been actively involved in furthering research into the use of music as a therapeutic tool in dementia care.

We base our work upon the Gerdner Protocol developed at Stanford University which provides an evidence-based guideline for finding and using personal music. It predicts the following results based upon two decades of research:

- Reduced agitation and disruptive behaviours

- Reduced combativeness

- Reduced use psychotropic drugs

- Reduced use of physical restraints

- Reduced wandering

It also anticipates potential improvements in quality of life including emotional health and wellbeing, communication and improved relationships with carers but recognises further research is required.

In 2015, in association with Glasgow Caledonian University, we published a literature review of all the evidence available at that time for the use of personally-meaningful music in dementia care. 

Since then, further studies have shown the effectiveness of music in dementia care. A systematic review published in the British Medical Journal in March 2017 analysed 142 previous studies and concluded that, of all the interventions tested, music was one of only two techniques to be effective in reducing behavioural and psychological symptoms in dementia. A further meta-analysis3 , published in Frontiers in Psychology in May 2017, concluded that “music intervention significantly reduces agitated behaviours in demented people”.

A brain imaging study published in April 2018, showed that listening to personally-meaningful music activated connections between many regions of the brain: “By listening to the personal soundtrack, the visual network, the salience network, the executive network and the cerebellar and corticocerebellar network pairs all showed significantly higher functional connectivity.”

Playlist For Life is active in furthering research in this area and we are excited to be involved in a growing number of PhDs and research relationships across the UK. In June 2017 we agreed a major new research partnership with the Centre For Dementia Prevention at the University of Edinburgh. The partnership will bring together researchers from across the world to investigate the impact personally-meaningful music can have for people living with dementia.

We are also funding a PhD at Glasgow Caledonian University and have been involved in a number of other small-scale clinical studies which have provided further evidence for the effectiveness of our approach to the use of personally-meaningful music (Nottingham University Hospital, Forth Valley NHS, Grampian NHS).

We are incredibly excited about the growing body of evidence proving the benefits of music in dementia care and as that evidence becomes increasingly robust we will ensure its lessons are embedded at the heart of Playlist For Life’s practice, tools, and guidelines.

Download research document

Read Playlist for Life's summary of the research and Bibliography 

Research document 2

Read Nottingham University Hospitals' evaluation 

Research document 3

Read NHS Forth Valley Playlist for Life Project Report 2015

Read about NHS Lothian's personal music project in complex care wards

Read about NHS Fife's 'Supporting People with Dementia in the Emergency Department' project

Read NHS Forth Valley's community hospital project evaluation

Read about the NHS Grampian Person Centred Team's personal playlist project