In October BBC Radio 3 will broadcast a six-hour programme blending music with the voices of people living with dementia, in a collaboration with the Wellcome Collection. It promises to be a moving demonstration of something we all need to know: that music can be a powerful tool for people with dementia, writes Sarah Metcalfe at The Guardian.
Music is neurologically special. If your brain were to be scanned while you listened to your favourite music, the screen would light up like a fireworks display. Not just the auditory cortex, but areas involved in emotion and memory, language and decision-making, movement and reactions.
Even if dementia erodes one part of your brain, music can still reach those other parts to tap into emotions, memories and even abilities thought lost.
The results can be astonishing – and profoundly moving. People who cannot speak can sing. People who struggle to walk can dance. People who have withdrawn into themselves take an interest in others again.
These effects explain the growing number of musical activities for people with dementia. Formal music therapy is wonderful but out of reach to many. The Alzheimer’s Society runs Singing for the Brain groups. There are fabulous outreach programmes by arts companies such as Opera Holland Park and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, bringing live music into care homes.
At Playlist for Life, we teach skills to help family members and care staff find the right music for someone with dementia, and how to harness its effects. Playlist for Life has partnered with The Centre for Dementia Prevention at the University of Edinburgh to help further the research.
We are still only scratching the surface of what music can do, but the evidence is growing. Until then, be it with a playlist or Radio 3’s upcoming dementia programming, we can all spread the word: music can help people living with dementia.