As Music as Therapy International’s UK Research and Development Officer, I have been exploring the needs of people living with dementia, and those who care for them. This is a new avenue for the charity, but with our experience in sustainable, effective skill-sharing projects, we could be uniquely placed to make a real difference in quality of care for people living with dementia. The Alzheimers Society projects that by 2025 there will be one million people living with dementia; a vast number that cannot possibly be reached by the UK’s existing music therapists. However, evidence is mounting that for people with dementia, music can provide a connection to other people, to past experiences and memories, and play a vital role in improving quality of life and also quality of care.
Each Music as Therapy International project begins with taking time to listen to and understand the needs of the people we are working with. To this end in April I attended the ‘Dementia Quality of Care’ Conference in Manchester to better understand some of the issues for this growing group of people. The speakers were drawn from people living with dementia, their families, carers, and health professionals. Some of the key messages that came out of the day were:
ÃÂ· -Support mechanisms are vital: emotional support, good systems for planning care into the future, and quality end of life care
ÃÂ· -Support is also required for family members and carers of people with dementia
ÃÂ· -‘Integrated, person-centred holistic support’ is needed; this is not currently done well enough
ÃÂ· -Carers and health professionals need to recognise personhood and individuality in the people they work with
ÃÂ· -Combating isolation, depression and stress is vital as these affect the progression of the disease
The personal stories and the passion with which the contributors spoke were very moving. I was interested to notice that nearly every speaker referred to the importance or role of music in their life in some way, from the popular ukulele band that has started in the hospital dementia ward, to the speaker who can sing along to songs but can longer remember the names of his friends. Through skill-sharing with care staff, Music as Therapy International could well have a role in helping to bring music into the lives of people living with dementia.