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The Power of Music: A Different Approach to Dementia Care

Giles Wilmore
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Before I tell you about Music in Mind, what we do and why we do it, it’s important to understand the context that surrounds dementia nationally. There are currently 900,000 people with dementia in the UK, and this figure is predicted to rise to 1.6 million by 2040. This equates to a cost of roughly £37.6 billion each year to the National Health Service, Social Care and informal unpaid carers . It’s a huge and ever-growing burden on individuals and on the NHS and Social Care, and they don’t have the capacity to shoulder this alone, not without significant consequences.

To compound this predicted growth, we also know that dementia is ultimately not curable. Although continuing research is helping us to understand it more, including its causes and treatment that might slow down its progression, it’s clear that there is still a huge amount that can be done in communities to provide better support. We must never just assume that dementia is something that the health service should only deal with in clinical settings.

The imperative to provide community support only increases when you also appreciate that 90% of our health and wellbeing is impacted by socio-economic factors: housing, income, education, transport to name just a few. For someone living with dementia, all these things significantly affect quality of life, and their overall health and wellbeing. For someone who might live alone, with no support whatsoever outside of a clinical setting, it can be devastating.

The principle aim of Music in Mind is to supplement whatever can be done medically and clinically for someone living with dementia. The NHS cannot tackle the growth in dementia alone. There needs to be a much wider societal response and a focus not just on treating a medical condition but providing genuine improvement to quality of life and enhancing wellbeing.

What is Music in Mind?

At its core, Music in Mind has been designed to use the therapeutic powers and benefits of music to allow people to live well with dementia. From the proven correlation between music and memory, to the impact music can have more generally on both mental and physical health, our programme has been specially developed from scientific research and evidence by leading dementia experts.

We run and support in-person music sessions for people living with dementia and their care networks in all manner of communities and environments, including care homes, community groups, supported living and day centres. Using simple percussion instruments, all participants are encouraged to engage with the music however they can and feel able, while our Music Champions, who lead the sessions, use music therapy-based principles to guide and encourage them, and most importantly ensure they find fun and joy in the moment!

How we help our communities

First and foremost, Music in Mind offers support for people living with dementia wherever they are, if that’s in a care home, or in a local community setting if they are still living independently. The idea is that we help people to maintain a quality of life for longer, both in terms of fun and enjoyment but also in finding social connection and not being isolated or lonely. Access to these sessions can help people’s sense of independence too, allowing them to tap into their own creativity and find purpose. There are also the well-documented effects of music stimulating memory, allowing for renewed connections between people living with dementia and their carers, families, and friends.

The support we provide is also very cost-effective for the health service and local authorities. Through our live music sessions and our Music in Mind programme, the support that we can provide to somebody with dementia works out at less than £500 per person, per year. Now, of course, we are not going to replace all clinical care and support and erase those costs completely, but we know that we can reduce them, in some cases significantly, as we reduce the need for and reliance on medication or the hours that need to be spent in clinical consultation.

I see the Music in Mind programme as an important aid to supplement clinical care and improve the quality of life for people living with dementia. The success of our programme has been well documented over the last decade, and we continue to develop it, based on continued observation, evidence, and research. Life-changing impacts have been felt not just by those living with dementia, but by their carers and families too. As we now look to a bright future for Music in Mind, we aim to bring these benefits to more and more communities across Greater Manchester, the UK and beyond.