Commission Brings Evidence Based Research and Recommendations for Effective Dementia Care using Music-based Interventions

Jan 18, 2018 | NEWS

A new report providing a robust and unique examination into the benefits of music-based interventions for people with dementia will be presented to an audience of MPs, celebrities, policy-makers, academics, clinicians, and charity leaders at the House of Lords on Thursday, 18th January.

The International Longevity Centre – UK (ILC-UK), with support from The Utley Foundation, has created a Commission on Dementia and Music. The Commission explores the important role of music-based interventions in prevention, care & quality of life for people with dementia.

The power of music to improve the lives of people with dementia is known amongst experts and some caregivers. However up until now, only a few have been able to benefit, and the growing academic evidence and research base have largely been unknown. The Commission’s report pulls together evidence and highlights content to make a case for change, including recent research which suggests that regions of the brain associated with musical memory may overlap with regions relatively spared in Alzheimer’s disease.

As well as providing evidence for the benefits of music for people with dementia, the Utley Foundation is taking an important next step by funding and developing the role of an Ambassador to act as a figurehead for dementia and music. This Ambassador will lead a dedicated task force to deliver transformational change in music access for people with dementia and their carers. To date, the Utley Foundation has supported a number of initiatives and invested half a million pounds working towards an ambitious goal of giving every person living with dementia access to music.

Music-based interventions for people with dementia can range widely, including community based music groups, live music in care homes, listening to the radio or recorded music, playing an instrument, music therapy, or using personalised playlists. Evidence suggests that there is a ‘memory bump’ for music: people with dementia retain the clearest memories for the music they enjoyed and heard roughly between the ages of 10 and 30¹

“Music is not a ‘nice add-on’ it has tangible, evidence based benefits and reaches out beyond the home to the care sector, hospitals, hospices and across the wider community”, Neil Utley, The Utley Foundation

Through the Commission, ILC-UK has held events, undertaken a literature review, consulted with professionals and members of the public, conducted site visits, written a unique examination into the dementia and music ecosystem & defined a clear pathway for future action.

Key findings include:

  • ILC-UK’s review of the evidence has shown that music is multi-dimensional and underpinned by widespread cortical plasticity, suggesting that even if certain areas of the brain are badly affected by dementia, a person may still be able to understand and enjoy music. Music may help in the recall of information for people with dementia, similar to mnemonics, and playing a musical instrument may be associated with a lowered likelihood of developing dementia.
  • Minimising the behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia (BPSD): Music-based interventions have the potential to help minimise BPSD, including symptoms such as agitation, abnormal vocalisation and aggression.
  • Tackling anxiety and depression: Music-based interventions can help to reduce anxiety and depression amongst people with dementia. Some research has suggested that the impact of music therapy on anxiety and depression could potentially be lasting, but more evidence is required.
  • Retaining speech and language: Some evidence suggests that music-based interventions may have the potential to improve the retention of speech and language for people with dementia.
  • Enhancing quality of life: Research suggests that music-based interventions can help to facilitate increased social interaction or ‘flow’, improve well-being, decrease stress hormones and enhance the quality of life of people with dementia.
  • Impact on caregivers: Early-stage research indicates that improvements in caregiving after music-related training are reported by caregivers, families, service providers and music therapists. Feedback suggests that engaging carers in music-based interventions can help them to better understand residents.
  • Palliative and end of life care: Qualitative evidence suggests that music therapy in end of life care may help to minimise anxiety and discomfort.
  • The proposed task force will create a roadmap that includes different strands and emphases such as type of dementia, age, ethnicity, comorbidities etc

Despite the potential value of music in delaying and reducing the symptoms of dementia, estimates suggest that high quality arts & music provision may only be available in 5% of care homes. Only a tiny minority of people with dementia have regular access to music therapy.

Baroness Sally Greengross, Chief Executive, ILC-UK said:

“Despite growing evidence of the value of music for people with dementia, we are not seeing enough being done to improve access to appropriate music-based activities. When talking about specialist music therapy, current availability only equates to roughly 30 seconds per week per person with dementia, meaning that very few individuals are benefitting from this valuable intervention.”

Sally Bowell, Research Fellow, ILC-UK said:

“Music should not just be considered a nice-to-have, or an ‘add-on’. Music has tangible, evidence-based benefits for people with dementia, such as helping to minimise the behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia, tackling depression and anxiety, and, importantly, helping to improve quality of life. We want to raise awareness of these important benefits and rally organisations and individuals alike to help champion access to music for people with dementia.”

Neil Utley, The Utley Foundation said:

“People with dementia often live in a silent world. Yet music can bring a person back to life. The ability to connect to music is an innate aspect of being human; having a diagnosis of dementia need not undermine this.”