Using personalised music to help people living with dementia

Published: 1 February 2023
Filed under: Communications

Music can be beneficial for people living with dementia. Decades of scientific research has shown how music can help to reduce anxiety, stimulate the senses, and improve the mood of someone living with dementia.

The benefits are more discernible when the music is personalised. This can trigger memories which help people living with dementia to connect with their family, friends and carers.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Waltham Forest Council has teamed up with Playlist for Life – a charity committed to creating personalised playlists for people living with dementia. Playlist for Life has provided resources for Council staff to make unique playlists for each person. The charity has also generously donated 10 MP3 players to the Dementia Hub for people to use.

Music can also help people with dementia by making difficult tasks more manageable. In this case study, a social worker from the Council helped a man living with dementia by creating a poster of his favourite musician.

RH is a 78-year-old man who is living with dementia. His GP noticed that his feet were significantly swelling due to sitting in the same position. RH was told to keep his feet at chest level to allow the blood to circulate through his legs so that the swelling and pain went down. However, due to his dementia, RH kept forgetting to do this.

His social worker considered how we could support RH and came up with a creative way of reminding him to keep his feet raised.

RH is from Montserrat and is a big fan of calypso and mento – two popular music genres from the Caribbean. The social worker researched this further and found an artist called Arrow, who is a famous calypso singer from Montserrat.

The social worker created a bespoke poster for RH, appealing to his sense of humour. It had a picture of the artist with a speech bubble saying, “Arrow says to keep your feet up to stop them feeling ‘hot, hot, hot’.” The last line is a reference to Arrow’s most well-known song.

RH immediately found this funny. The social worker stuck the poster at eye level in front of where RH would sit. When reviewing the situation a few weeks later, RH’s feet has reduced in swelling and pain, and he thanked the social worker for the poster idea. It helped him to remember to raise his feet every time he looked up from his seat.

Additionally, the poster became a great talking point. His old friends from Montserrat would come and visit him and they loved the poster. It was also a great ice breaker to establish a strong relationship between RH and the social worker.

There are many services for people living with dementia in Waltham Forest. The Dementia Hub, which is situated in Leyton, hosts regular sessions, including sensory stimulation sessions which were run by researchers from University College London. They explored how we can improve the emotional wellbeing of people living with dementia by engaging with touch and feel, as well as listening to music. Read more.

The Dementia Hub has recently had a piano donated and hopes to soon resume ‘Singing for the Brain’ sessions through the Alzheimer’s Society.

Find out more about the dementia services on offer in Waltham Forest by visiting the borough’s dementia roadmap.