Making good memories with music for people living with dementia

Using music to help increase communication and unlock memories for people living with dementia is the focus of a workshops held in Melbourne and Brisbane.

The Dementia Centre, part of HammondCare and a leading dementia care research organisation, ran an interactive three-hour workshop in Malvern in Melbourne on February 27 and will again in Chermside in Brisbane on March 13, to help providers of residential care and carers of people living with dementia understand the power of music in building better engagement and connection.

Director of the Dementia Centre, A/Prof Colm Cunningham, said the power of music to unlock memory and evoke emotion has become better understood in recent years, particularly in the study of patients with Alzheimer’s disease and frontal lobe dementia.

Since 2014, HammondCare has rolled out more than 1500 audio devices to aged care residents so they can have access to their favourite music,” A/Prof Cunningham said.

We recognise that music provides a source of fun and relaxation as well as numerous benefits to wellbeing for people living with dementia in residential aged care. These include a greater sense of emotional safety, building rapport and trust with staff, and providing an opportunity for emotional expression.

Dementia Centre consultant Holly Markwell, who is running the workshop, said group singing activities can help bring staff and residents together. She also encourages the use of a cheap and simple audio splitter, which allows two people can enjoy music through headphones from the same device.

It’s not just about putting the music on and walking away – it’s about going with the flow and following the person’s lead,” Ms Markwell said.

If the person is up on their feet we can join in too; clicking fingers, clapping hands, or humming along to the chorus. If it is the right time, right music and right place then the person’s positive response will be almost immediate.

Ms Markwell said music in residential care is a way for families to enjoy quality time with someone with dementia: “Lost memories or a lack of verbal communication skills can make connection difficult with even the closest friend or family member.

For some who have lost the ability to verbally communicate, music has even been known to restore or enhance language skills for around 20 minutes following music listening.

Ms Markwell said the key is choosing the right music: “A jingle from the era of our childhood might be well-remembered and contain some nostalgic fun, but it is musical memories which have an emotional resonance and significance that are truly special and meaningful.

Here we are harnessing rich cognitive associations in the areas of emotion, reward, motor and autonomic pathways.

Media inquiries: For more information or to request an interview, please contact HammondCare: Harrison Vesey hvesey@hammond.com.au on (02) 9268 6758.

The Dementia Centre was founded by HammondCare in 1995 as an impartial provider of research and expertise to the aged and dementia care community. It exists to enhance the quality of life for people living with dementia through services and solutions that are proven in practice.

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