Music therapy for dementia patients continues despite lockdown

Music therapy for dementia patients continues despite lockdown

An initiative to provide help and comfort to people living with dementia through music therapy has been continuing, despite lockdown rules meaning performers are no longer allowed to visit care homes and other residences.

The Together in Sound scheme, which is run by the Saffron Hall Trust and the Cambridge Institute for Music Therapy Research at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), has been performing live music for dementia patients and their carers since 2017 and has not let the current coronavirus lockdown stop its work.

Instead of live performances, the organisation has turned to online streaming to continue its sessions, with members of the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s Future First scheme making music from their own homes.

Katie McKinnon, Saffron Hall’s learning and participation coordinator, said running the Together in Sound sessions via online video conferencing software worked better than expected, with the organisation providing support and guidance to help everybody get set up to access the performance.

"Once we got up and running it was business as usual," she stated. We wondered whether some of the social aspect would be lost due to the barriers of cameras and laptops, but via our devices we were able to wave to and greet each other as usual, make music, share jokes and stories and cheer each other on."

Dementia UK explains that music therapy is thought to be highly beneficial for those with the disease as it uses different parts of the brain to language, so even if patients are no longer able to speak or respond to other people’s words, music can be used to communicate or engage with them.

Playing soothing music can help calm a person's mood, which may be particularly useful during personal care, while tunes they have a personal connection with, such as a favourite song, a piece of music from their wedding, or a tune they used to sing to their children, can tap into powerful memories and emotions.

The Together in Sound sessions are run by Claire Molyneux, senior lecturer in music therapy at ARU, who said that during these uncertain times, it's vital to try and find ways to enable connections with dementia patients and provide stimulation and a sense of community.

She added: "It was very moving to observe participants recognise, engage with each other, and respond to the various musical interactions we offered via their screens. This continuation of the bonds they have made with each other in the music therapy sessions is vital in the face of the increased isolation that COVID-19 has brought."

The Together in Sound project is not the only effort being made by ARU's Cambridge Institute for Music Therapy Research to assist people living with dementia. It is also adapting the five-country research project Homeside, which is funded by Alzheimer’s Society UK, to allow music and reading activities to be delivered online as part of the research.