The power of music to unlock memories in those experiencing the advance of Alzheimers is the basis for an innovative approach to patient care being introduced across the NHS in Fife.
Already bringing positive results for both those living with dementia, as well as for families having to deal with a loved one’s condition, it’s based on the Playlist For Life charity’s theory that everyone has their own unique ‘soundtrack’, and how that collection of music can be used to improve patient care and wellbeing.
The Glasgow-based charity was set up by broadcaster and journalist Sally Magnusson in 2013 following the popularity of her book ‘Where Memories Go’, which lays bare her experiences of caring for her own mother Mamie, as dementia developed.
She discovered that personally meaningful music helped improve Mamie’s life with the disease more than anything else.
Sally found that there are songs and pieces of music that take us back to a different time, person or place whenever we hear them.
Putting all that music into one playlist for people with dementia, is not only proven to be enjoyable and soothing, it can be a lifeline.
Giving dementia sufferers access to music via an iPod player is an innovative approach to care that, along with other research studies undertaken in Fife in the last three years by Helen Skinner, dementia nurse consultant, has brought about some remarkable and positive results.
“Music is inextricably intertwined with our lives, with particular pieces of music or songs linking back to a specific time, place or person and we have seen that, by giving patients the chance to listen to that, it can often unlock happy emotions and memories for them that have been locked away because of dementia,” Helen told the Press.
“Medical research has found that the part of the brain that processes our experience of music is the last to be affected by a disease such as Alzheimers.
“Listening to music or songs which relate specifically to that individual can bring positive reactions from people who have, until then, been withdrawn, unable to communicate or in a state of depression.
“In many patients we’ve seen that music also has the ability to reduce stress and agitation, and has often allowed a level of interaction between those with dementia and their family or carers, which otherwise would have not been possible.”
Crucially, this type of approach can lead to a reduction in the use of prescribed anti-psychotic medication that often comes with adverse side effects and has long-term health implications.
The music approach not only results in more effective and healthier patient-led care, but also has benefits for health boards facing increasing pressure to reduce costs.
Since starting in 2015, Helen has completed the training for staff at nine wards in hospitals across the Kingdom including Victoria Hospital in Kirkcaldy and Queen Margaret in Dunfermline.
“Where we have introduced this music playlist approach, we have seen some quite remarkable and highly emotional results,” she explained.
“Often there are a tears along the way, especially where music has brought a positive reaction and a connection otherwise unachievable, that’s hugely rewarding for staff and, most importantly, reassuring and comforting for the family.
And Helen recalls one particular case in which the power of music did just that.
“We had a gentleman who was a fan of country and western music, especially one particular singer,” she said.
“I put together a playlist which, when played to him, had him singing along and even recalling the lyrics before the next line was sung.
“That ability to reconnect those with dementia back to a fond memory or level of enjoyment that has diminished because of their condition is the win-win for everyone from patient, to family to carer.
“That’s what we are striving for and that’s why we are now working closely with patients and families at the early stages of the onset of dementia to build up a playlist which we can use at a later date.”
Having researched the science behind it and securing an initial amount of funding to provide iPods and access to music via online music streaming services such as iTunes, the introduction of the Playlist For Life approach has seen a steady progression throughout NHS Fife.
But there is always scope for the public to help support the good work, hence NHS Fife’s current iPod donation drive, calling on the public to donate old players or to purchase iTunes vouchers which will allow staff to access music online specifically suited to a particular person.
“It’s a simple way to make a big difference to people’s lives,” said Helen.
>> Do you have an old iPod player sitting unused in a draw? If so why not donate it to help those with dementia. NHS Fife is appealing for public donations of old players as well as iTune vouchers which will allow staff to expand the Playlist For Life approach to dementia care to more patients.
Finlay Ross and fellow members of the Masonic Lodge in Kirkcaldy have done just that donating a number of players and vouchers this week.
It’s a fantastic way to support people with dementia and we’d urge others to do the same,” said Mr Ross.
“How something as simple as an iPod can have such a positive impact is fantastic.”
Donations can be left at the main Victoria Hospital reception (c/o Helen Skinner). Or you can contact Helen on 01592-643355 (ext 28429) for more details.