Harnessing the power of music for dementia care

Created Out of Mind Director, Sebastian Crutch, has been appointed to a new Commission on Dementia and Music, that could help transform dementia care.

Image: Music for Life session, led by Wigmore Hall. Photo: WIgmore Hall. 

Image: Music for Life session, led by Wigmore Hall. Photo: WIgmore Hall. 

The Commission, launched in the House of Lords on 12th July 2017, brings together leading universities, charities, care providers, music practitioners and policy makers to explore the current and potential role of music-based interventions in the prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care for people living with dementia.

Seb said of joining the Commission: 

"It's a privilege to be invited to contribute to this important work. It’s particularly timely as there is a huge amount of evidence and experience already around the benefits of music, but greater coordination and communication is required for this evidence to have a fuller impact". 

With 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK, and numbers set to rise to over one million by 2025, we are all in a sense 'living with dementia'. Therefore, an increased and sustained focus on dementia is crucial, and music and the arts has an extremely powerful part to play in improving the wellbeing of people living with dementias, carers and families. 

We know this from experience. People who work and create with people with dementias have seen first hand the benefits of music. As Co-Director Julian West notes:

"Music can enhance the lives of those who live with a dementia by providing powerful anchors to identity and the present, as well as ways to connect and communicate with those around them".

Part of Created Out of Mind's work is to explore and measure how the arts can help us experience ourselves ‘in the moment’, rather than after the fact.

Our Music for Life 360 project builds on Wigmore Hall's Music for Life programme, which brings together professional musicians, care staff and people living with dementia through interactive music sessions. We are applying technology and machine-learning approaches to these sessions in order to examine the interaction between a musician, carer and a person with dementia, at the moment it is happening. This will enable us to develop tools to capture more accurate data, which can complement current evidence for, and help improve, music based-interventions in care settings.

Created Out of Mind researchers are also measuring the physiological responses (e.g. stress hormones and pupil dilation) and psychological responses (anxiety, loneliness and wellbeing) of people with dementias to musical activities such as choral singing and recorded music. By combining technology with qualitative measures, we are able to capture valuable evidence. For example, is there a reduction in stress hormone responses when someone hears choral singing, and does this help to decrease anxiety and loneliness?

Dementia presents itself in many different ways and each experience is unique; therefore support and care should reflect this. We are excited to be part of this Commission and apply our research to supporting a broad and flexible landscape of music-based interventions that will enable more personalised dementia care, tailored to individual preferences and needs. 

Learn more about our research on dementias and music here

 

The Commission is funded by the Utley Foundation and led by the International Longevity Centre UK (ILC). The ILC is a leading think tank dedicated to addressing the challenges and opportunities of ageing and demographic change.

The Commission will be reviewing literature in the field, hosting oral evidence sessions, and issuing a call for written evidence. ILC-UK will then be writing a summative report of the activity. This report will provide recommendations and flag agreed future priorities for action and research.