There can be no doubt that living with dementia is challenging, not just for the person but for their family and carers too. As the condition progresses people may become withdrawn, have difficulty communicating or expressing their needs. Families may see a change in personality which can be distressing and upsetting. At Country Court we care for many residents who are living with dementia, our care teams adopt a patient and personal approach with each person, taking each day and even each moment as it comes. Unlocking those precious moments can be hugely rewarding and beneficial. As part of this, music therapy in dementia care is known to have many benefits.
Getting to know each resident starts before they move into one of our homes, the staff team speak to their family and will meet them in their current home or hospital before they move in. Understanding likes, dislikes, life history and personality is key to providing individualised and person-centred care. It's important to understand everyone is different, so each persons care should be different too. That goes all the way through to the music they like (or don’t like) and the songs that have special meaning for people.
Claire Castle, daughter of Valerie Stevens, who is living with advanced dementia and a resident at Rose Lodge Care Home in Market Deeping, explains what a relief it is to find a care setting where the staff team are prepared to listen and take time to get to know each resident.
“Natalie came to the home [where Mum was living,] went through all the paperwork and saw Mum at her worst. Natalie informed me after many discussions Mum could have a bed and they would do their best and give it a go. She explained that it might take a long time, maybe 3 months, but they were willing to try. It might not work out, but they would do their utmost to give Mum the help and care she needed…. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, we moved Mum into her new home Rose Lodge and we haven’t looked back.”
After speaking with Valerie’s family about the style of music that she enjoyed, the team at Rose Lodge created a dementia playlist, trying various style of music with her, from Abba to musicals and many more. Her response is clear to see for those who know her, with different music having differing reactions. Some songs were calming, others clearly took her back to a time and place in the past. Valerie is in a place where she rarely speaks so hearing her talking again after listening to music was a real step forward.
“It was very emotional to witness how the music unlocked a part of her that was previously unreachable.” Explained Natalie White, Home Manager at Rose Lodge “To see the effect of this first-hand is a real privilege. Valerie has poor vision and communication is difficult, it was clear that she was frustrated and anxious when she came to us. We were struggling to find activities that we could try with her until we were chatting with her family and her daughter mentioned her love of music”.
Music for dementia can be used to reduce anxiety and can produce a calming effect, easing disorientation and unlocking memories. It can also help form connections between people and their carers, as sharing the experience together reduces isolation and helps people regain their sense of identity. Paying very close attention to a person’s movement, breathing and vocal sounds gives an indication of their response to the music they are hearing and how we can use that to best care for them.
Equally, music can be stimulating, promoting movement from tapping toes or fingers to getting up and dancing. Emotional memories are ‘hard-wired’ rhythmically into the brain meaning rhythm is a preserved skill for those affected by dementia. Rhythm can be used to unlock memories with the words to favourite songs sung clearly when other communication is lost.