“Where words fail, music speaks” (Hans Christian Andersen)
Music stimulates more parts of the brain than any other human function (Mannes, 2011). There is clear potential in the power of music to change the brain and affect the way it works.
Despite a wealth of empirical evidence to show that music can increase the quality of life for people with dementia, it is a powerful tool in dementia care that remains underutilised in many care settings.
Elton John once said “Music has healing power. It has the ability to take people out of themselves for a few hours.” In dementia, the opposite is true. Where people can no longer access their own life history due to memory loss, music can “bring them back into themselves, into their own personhood and memories” (Oliver Sacks, 2011).
The late Aretha Franklin understood its power; “Music does a lot of things for a lot of people. It’s transporting, for sure. It can take you right back, years back, to the very moment certain things happened in your life. It’s uplifting, it’s encouraging, it’s strengthening.”
Research (Powel, 2016; Carpente & Aigen, 2018) shows that listening to music results in:
- Positive changes in mood and emotional states
- Improved memory recall
- A sense of control over life and increased confidence
- Effective, non-pharmacological management of pain and discomfort
- Opportunities to interact socially with others
- Stimulation that promotes physical movement and interest (even when other approaches are ineffective)
This is compelling evidence: music can relieve physical pain, encourage movement, enhance decision-making skills, improve well-being and provide a way to experience joy and connection with others.
There is no good reason not to include use of music within the activity care plan of every service user living with dementia.