There’s been quite a bit in the news this month about the benefits of music therapy for people living with dementia – but some of you may not be aware that music therapy has in recent years been used in some of our hospitals. As far as I know, all the hospitals which have had funding for music therapy and witnessed its benefits have then gone on to apply for further funding, so that they can continue to provide the service.

I find it very uplifting that more and more people nowadays understand that a person who appears cut off from the world of communication can in fact still connect, given the right support. So much about quality of life for people living with dementia relies on the upskilling of those around them, enabling that person to function at their best. Hard evidence of the benefits of music therapy are available, showing the impact it can have. 

Key to all this is the personalisation of the music being offered; as with everything else, it’s a case of recognising that each person living with dementia is an individual. Not so long ago, wartime music was often thought to be the ideal theme for people with dementia, but there are now relatively few people for whom that era is one they’ll relate to. Perhaps the person has always preferred classical music, or country music, or hard rock? It’s certainly important to do your research and choose carefully! 

I once supported my mother through a cancer operation under local anaesthetic, simply by maintaining a strong connection via a constant sing-song of her absolute favourites – and that way, she avoided a general anaesthetic and was able to return home on the day of the operation. Get it right and music can work wonders! On the ward, appropriate music would have given a positive focus, reducing the chance of the distress that can lead to so many complications, including falls.

One last point: people often presume that an activity forgotten is an activity whose benefit is gone – but that’s simply not the case. Hours after my mother had forgotten that she’d been at her day centre, its impact was still apparent through her mood and behaviour. Even though that person in a hospital bed may not be able to tell you how they feel, that sense of well-being could last long after the fifteen minutes that someone’s played their favourite music to them. 

If you can’t remember yesterday and can’t anticipate tomorrow, the time that matters is right now – and the greater the number of contented moments that person experiences, the better society is doing at supporting people living with dementia.