Perspectives (ND21)

Less talk, more music – why action is needed now

In March 2020, the volume was turned down on live music and the world was eerily silent. Many of us, including those of us who are musicians and music therapists, were not expecting what happened next. From singing from balconies to performances outside care home windows, music played a critical role in helping communities all over the world manage and deal with the severe impacts of the pandemic.

As an unexpected consequence, we had a collective awakening to the power of music to support health and wellbeing. We were using music’s therapeutic benefits to help us manage and deal with something we had no control over. This was particularly the case for people living with dementia.

For several decades now, music has been used in dementia care to support and enhance quality of life. The evidence base for its effectiveness and impact has been growing, demonstrating that music therapy reduces agitation and the need for anti-psychotic medication in 67% of people. But it remains, for many, something that is considered a nicety and not a necessity.

And yet, in music, we have a tool that enables us to connect with people with dementia regardless of the severity of the condition because of the way it is processed across the whole brain and not just in one region. Therefore, as the condition progresses, music is still able to cut through and help people to connect and communicate.

As we start to recover from the pandemic, now is the time to think about what we can do better, and more of, in a post-Covid world. For people living with dementia, alongside providing them with a social care system that works for them, it is also about helping to make music an integral part of dementia care.

Music can help someone to get up, washed and dressed in the morning or to have a meaningful connection in the here and now with a loved one. It should be acknowledged as such in the national dementia strategy.

Without music being explicitly referenced in the government’s promised new strategy, music will remain a mere nicety in the care system when it should be at the heart of good, personalised dementia care. Without this, it will not become a standard part of dementia care and provision will remain patchy.

Already delayed, the new strategy is urgent. Time is not on our side. By 2040, the number of people expected to have dementia is projected to double to 1.6m. Now is the time, for all those who can, to step up and play their part in putting dementia care at the top of the agenda again. It will mean people with dementia and those caring for them receive the quality of care and support they deserve to live as well as possible with dementia.

Let’s make sure music helps us lead the way in making this happen.

Grace Meadows is campaign director for Music for Dementia