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9 May 2019

Music for Dementia 2020 – join our musical dementia movement

Grace Meadows
Grace Meadows, Programme Director for Music for Dementia 2020, encourages you to join the musical dementia movement and talks about how we can all help to make music available for everyone living with dementia.

In last week’s blog, Harriet and David, invited you to join the movement. I’m adding an additional call to action to that this week by inviting you to join our taskforce and get behind Music for Dementia 2020. For those of you who had escaped early for the bank holiday weekend and missed the announcement about BBC Radio DJ and presenter Lauren Lavern becoming the ambassador for our campaign, followed by the first part of the inspiring Dementia Choir on BBC 1, you missed seeing Music for Dementia having its time in the spotlight. And rightly and necessarily so.

Our health and care sectors are facing extraordinary levels of demands and pressures as we find ourselves living longer but not necessarily aging well. This strain is causing our workforces to become exhausted and close to burnout, both mentally and physically, ultimately impacting on the quality of care being offered. This is where music can and does have a fundamental role to play in transforming and enriching care.

What many in commissioning roles across health and social care are quickly coming to realise (if they haven’t already but surely are after last week), is that by fostering a society that utilises the power of music, we can and are transforming how we support and care for people living with dementia. The heard, seen and felt experience of it speaks for itself. Again, for many, learning that it is an evidence-based resource is new news. We, as a community, need to get smarter about how we talk about and use this evidence base to make our case for the inclusion of music in dementia care.

But we also must keep it personal. Music is highly personal and person-centred. Music’s ability to bring personalised care to life is something we can all identify with through our own unique relationships with it. For people living with dementia, and those caring for them. This can be transformational and unlike any other conduit for connecting with someone whose skills to relate and communicate have been stripped from them. Music’s capacity to bring joy, enliven, stimulate and bring people together, as many of you will have experienced, can bring radical change to both relationships and environments.

But it’s available already, I hear you say. Well, yes and no. As identified in the International Longevity Centre-UK’s report on Music and Dementia, it suggested that provision of musical offerings is disparate and fragmented. In some settings and locations across the UK, such as people’s homes, community settings, concert halls, care settings, hospitals and hospices, there are wonderful, creative, sensitive and appropriate services available, everything from playlists and performances, to interactive, participatory music-making sessions and music therapy. But we want to see this become embedded in all dementia care.

There is an understanding and valuing of the vital role music plays in care; when that’s the case it is used to its maximum effect. However, for many, whilst they may know lots about music and lots about dementia, they may never have put the two together. Those are the places where there is currently little or no activity. And that’s why we have created the Music for Dementia 2020 campaign; to ensure everyone living with dementia has music available to them.

The campaign is calling for everyone living with dementia to have access to the music that matters to them, in the right way, at the right time, delivered by the right person. For someone living in a care setting, that might be having access to their playlist at any time of the day, every day of the week, and being able to take part in the weekly singing group and interactive music making group. For someone who has been admitted into an acute dementia ward in a busy hospital, it might be ensuring they have access to a music therapist. Whatever the individual’s need, we want to see them have access to the music that matters to them.

How are you going to make this happen? We are going to make this happen together because dementia is everybody’s business. From helping to increase awareness and understanding in our local communities to having a national awareness campaign, we need to put music for dementia on the map of our collective understanding. This is why programmes such as the BBC’s Our Dementia Choir are so important in helping to tell the stories. We all relate to stories, we learn and understand our world around us through stories. Therefore the more we tell our music and dementia stories, the more people will be able connect to the impact music can having for people living with dementia.

We also need to build more connections. For too long, many people providing excellent services in this area have been working in isolation, not necessarily intentionally, but because they aren’t aware of the work of others. We are going to help change that by creating a musical map of the UK – joining the dots and helping to show where services are available and helping people access what’s available to them locally. Resources are scarce, we all know this, but knowledge and skills are not. By joining up, we can help to help fill this gap. And part of that is to not feel we all have to do everything. As practitioners, that’s where we can be sharing our skills and making the vital connections needed to sustain this work.

That’s why we’ve created the website, to act as a hub in which we can all share resources, knowledge and tell the stories of how music transforms lives for people living with dementia and those who care for them.

At this moment in time, we have the support of the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, having recently called for music therapy to be made available for people living with dementia to prevent over-medicalisation and help improve quality of life. Together we can help him realise his vision of making music, in all its rich and varied forms a part of dementia care.

We would encourage you and your organisations to share the messaging of the campaign, in turn helping to increase awareness and understanding that for people living with dementia, music is a necessity, not a nicety and work towards increasing delivery of your musical offers through the means that are viable and sustainable in the contexts in which you work. It is vital that we continue to increase awareness and understanding of the role that music has in enhancing and enriching care; to help people feel this is something they can do in their own ways within their contexts, and we must collectively work together through the taskforce with care providers to embed music into their services and care pathways. Join us in helping to ensure we are providing choice and the best possible person-centred care for people living with dementia.

Grace is the Programme Director for the Music for Dementia 2020 campaign.