A new Commission on Dementia and Music can help change the way we care

Alexia Quin, the Director of Music as Therapy International, explains how an upcoming commission into dementia and music can help change the way we care for people living with the disease.

Many people think of dementia as only a problem for the elderly, and that it is not something that should be worried about. But with around 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK today (and that number set to rise to over one million by 2025, according to the Alzheimer’s Society), it is an issue that is going to affect more of us, not only directly but through friends, neighbours and family members.

There is currently no cure for dementia, and treatment often relies on antipsychotic medication to reduce the symptoms, which can include distress, anxiety and in some cases aggression. However, there have recently been increased calls to reduce the usage of these medications for dementia treatment, with various alternatives being explored.

The forthcoming Commission on dementia and music by the International Longevity Centre – UK (ILC) is an indication of this sea change in approaches. I hope in my role as one of the Commissioners, it will be a chance for me to highlight the potential for music to improve the wellbeing of people with dementia – and change the way we care for them, too.

I founded the charity Music as Therapy International 20 years ago, as I believe passionately in the power of music to make the most of people’s potential. We have worked across four continents, using a unique approach to make some of the benefits of music therapy available to thousands of vulnerable, marginalised children and adults.

Our approach is simple, but has proven to be incredibly effective. We train care staff to use simple music therapy techniques and musical activities, providing them with resources and professional support to make sustainable change. By giving care staff the skills to use music independantly, we help them form more meaningful relationships with the people they care for every day, improving wellbeing and changing the way they care.

With an ageing population and cases of dementia on the rise in the UK, we need to be looking at every possible way to improve care for people living with the disease. There is a wealth of research which shows the very real difference music therapy can make to people with dementia, both in terms of quality of life and reducing reliance on medication. However, with only 132 music therapists currently working with elderly people in the UK, music therapy in its current form will never be available to everyone living with dementia who needs it.

This Commission by the ILC is a fantastic opportunity to explore all that music has to offer, and the different approaches we can use to benefit the most people. I believe having this commission is a positive step in the right direction, but I know there is so much more we can be doing.

In 2016 Music as Therapy International launched ‘Bringing It All Back Home’ – a UK programme of projects to strengthen care in the UK, with dementia one of our areas of focus. As part of this continued programme, we are currently welcoming approaches from care settings interested in receiving a project to train staff in the use of music as therapy.

For more information about Music as Therapy International and our UK work please visit www.musicastherapy.org

1 Response

  1. This is such a great development. My Dad has severe dementia and, in February, was so close to passing away that the doctors withdrew his medication and left nature to take its course. He was bedridden. His eyes no longer focused on anything tangible, he had difficulty swallowing and he no longer spoke other than in a tiny whisper. We managed to get him out a few times just to get fresh air (very difficult because dementia has taken his mobility and he is in a wheelchair). Four months later, he is back to the same stage he was at a year ago. He is much cheerier, and he he talks normally now. His cognitive awareness is still very poor but he recognises people again and does sometimes make sense. We often play his favourite scottish country dance music and he always responds by smiling and tapping his fingers in time to the music. I know that dementia is a one way journey and that there is only one ending – but for now, I have a non expert view that the combination of reduced medication plus increased stimulation has given him a better quality of life again.

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