You might have heard that music is good for the brain – there is a lot in the press about it these days. You may have read about Songaminute Man (this one is my favourites, especially with Mum fast asleep in the back seat) or the Alzheimer’s Society’s Singing for the Brain. Music can be a lifeline for people living with dementia.

Research has shown that favourite music used as a regular part of daily care for people living with dementia can:

* Improve sense of wellbeing and quality of life
* Reduce use of medications
* Increases nutrition and appetite
* Help the person feel more active and communicative
* Offset boredom, isolation, depression
* Restore identity and encourages connections (with family & community)

Research has also shown that carers benefit from something enjoyable to do together, renewing and supporting a feeling of ‘connection’, decreased stress levels and helping transitions of care (eg a short stay in hospital or a new carer who is visiting the home).

Music & Memory is working with carers to bring the benefits of music to people living with dementia at home and in care. We show carers how to find the music that will bring the most benefits and how to find the particular way to use that music that works for the person you care for. We started in the US and have now reached 75,000 people worldwide. This is an extract from the film Alive Inside – a documentary showing how Music & Memory first started in the US.

The latest scanning and imaging techniques have shown that music is processed in many regions of the brain. What’s more, when you listen to a song your really love, that brings back memories – your brain lights up like a firework display! Have a look the image below – the red, yellow and green areas only light up if the music is familiar and has strong life memories.

University of California – Davis. “Brain Hub That Links Music, Memory And Emotion Discovered.”
ScienceDaily, 24 February 2009.

The really important thing is that the parts of our brain that process loved music and the memories and emotions attached to that music are not affected by dementia – even as the disease starts to affect many other parts of the brain – as Dr Oliver Sacks, a supporter and friend of Music & Memory explains in this video.

So how do you best get someone’s favourite music to someone living with dementia? There are 2 steps. First, finding out what is the music they love – we call that being a ‘Music Detective’. The next step is what is the best way to use the music – what to play the music on and when. You can find a full description of this process in our guide ‘How to Create a Personalised Playlist for Carers at Home’. You can request a copy here – select the guide from the drop down list ‘I’m interested in’.

Being a Music Detective is about discovering their loved, favourite music – not just the type or music or what was music popular when they were young. The best way to start is to ask. Questions you can start with include:

* Do you have a favorite song?
* Did you have a favourite band or singer?
* Did you used to go dancing?
* What song did you dance to at your wedding?
* Did anyone in your family play music? Did you?
* Did you ever go to watch a band or a singer?
* Make notes as you will not be able to follow up every ‘lead’ in a single session.

To start 30 minutes is probably enough. Rely on your judgement.If you only have a few lyrics to go by – use Google: it is now optimised to recognised lyrics.

You can also use tools like – they have the top 100 selling records from 1900-2016! So if you know how old the person is, work out the years when they were 15-25 years old and start with these. A high percentage of important life memories and life-long preferences to music are formed during adolescence and early adulthood, giving an increased recognition for music and events during this period.

How to get the music onto your iPod or MP3 player is covered in our Personalised Playlist guide. You may prefer to listen to the music on a music player – like the Unforgettable Music Player and Digital Radio. When to use the music is discovered through trying it at different times of the day, or before an appointment you need to travel to – or maybe before something that you know the person finds difficult and makes them anxious.

Above all find time to share the music together and share their memories. Watch out for our eBook coming out in November: ‘The Power of Personalised Music’ – designed to help you get the most from the Unforgettable Music Player and Digital Radio.

Simon Warner-Bore, CEO Music & Memory