Sally Magnusson is a writer, broadcaster, founder and chair of Playlist for Life, a UK music and dementia charity using the music of a person’s life to keep them connected to themselves and their loved ones throughout their dementia journey. This work originated from her experiences with her mother's dementia, where she realised the power of personal music.
Please tell us about some of the work you have done to support, improve and contribute to the lives of, people with dementias?
I founded Playlist for Life in 2014 to share with other families the secret we discovered when caring for my mother: personal music can help people living with dementia.
Last year we spoke directly to more than 12,000 people about how they can create a personal playlist for someone with the disease, released an iOS app that helps people find, and listen to, the right music and trained 1600 health and care professionals in 98 organisations.
What was your motivation for getting involved in the field of dementia?
I cared for my mother for many years as she was drawn deeper and deeper into dementia. Singing with her was the only thing that helped to keep us, her family, connected to her, and her to herself. When she died I wanted to tell other families that finding out the soundtrack to their loved one’s life could help them navigate these despairing times.
What would you say has been your greatest achievement or highlight?
Founding Playlist for Life is one of the best things I’ve ever done. We hear quite often from care homes we train that residents have been weaned off sedative medication by using their playlist instead. That’s good enough! But last year we heard that in one of these homes the GP was so impressed he had prescribed Playlist for Life to eight other residents. I felt then: ‘This is what I hoped would happen.’
We want to make it general knowledge that music can help people living with dementia. We are working on a big media effort over the next two years, and with community organisations all over the UK to set up a national network of ‘Help Points’. Help Points have trained volunteers, tools and materials so anyone who gets stuck making or using their playlist has somewhere to go for a helping hand. Anyone interested in setting up a Help Point in their local church, library or community organisation should visit the Playlist for Life website.
If you could change one thing now to improve the lives of people living with dementia, what would it be?
Whenever someone is diagnosed they should be told that music can help at every stage of the disease. They should think about the ways they already enjoy music and be made aware of all the different musical activities they might want to get involved with. And they should be encouraged to get all the music that is special to them in one place.
That music is their playlist for life and it has the power to accompany and support them on their dementia journey, and keep them connected to friends and family.