Our response to report from the commission on dementia & music

As the largest independent music therapy charity in the UK, we respond to today’s report on a study conducted by the International Longevity Centre thinktank and the Utley Foundation calling for more funding for music therapy in dementia care.

The study, which shows that music therapy can help people with dementia to recall information and reduce symptoms associated with the illness, also warned that only 5% of care homes are using music therapy effectively. The commission also called for the NHS to promote music therapy through personal health budgets and integrated personal budgets – a measure which Nordoff Robbins believes would be invaluable.

Nordoff Robbins works in care homes, memory clinics and centres around the country helping people with dementia to live well through the specialist use music. Music therapy can take many forms, including individual and group sessions, using improvised and well-known music and a variety of instruments. In these situations, music can help ease anxiety, unlock memories, and help individuals regain their sense of identity, creating a profound feeling of being connected and in the present – something so valuable to people living with dementia, their family and friends.

Dr Simon Procter, Director of Music Services at Nordoff Robbins says:

“It’s great to see this report come out from the Commission on Dementia and Music, whose findings closely match our own experience. Music is not just a stimulus or an intervention, it is part and parcel of who we are, of our lives and of our identities as people. It makes perfect sense that at a time when our sense of who we are is being threatened by the onset of dementia, the everyday use of music (especially when shared with families and friends) can be an invaluable anchor for people whose lives are being disrupted. It also makes sense that as dementia progresses, people will need more tailored, personalised support and this work requires specialist training.”

Earlier studies have shown that a significant number of people with dementia still retain the ability to connect with music, making music therapy a highly effective and beneficial support tool, and Nordoff Robbins’ work has further shown that music can help ease anxiety, unlock memories, and help individuals regain their sense of identity, creating a profound feeling of being connected and in the present.

In response to the areas of the study highlighting the lack of effective music therapy practices in care homes, Simon adds:

“We would like to emphasise the need for skilled work across the board in this area. What we need are skilled musicians who have a good practical understanding of what music making has to offer people in their own life situations, who are trained to facilitate musical interaction in all its possible forms – including choirs, communal music-making opportunities, music appreciation groups and music therapy.”

Nordoff Robbins runs a two-year full-time Master of Music Therapy training programme for musicians wishing to become music therapists (validated by Goldsmiths, University of London, and approved by the Health and Care Professions Council). Firmly focused on the development of skilled practice, this prepares musicians who want to do this challenging work to interact with people in ways which consistently improve the quality of their lives.

June, whose husband Eddie received Nordoff Robbins music therapy to support him with dementia says:

“Before my eyes, Eddie started disappearing. He could no longer enjoy all the things we used to do, and we couldn’t fulfil all the plans we had made. But when music therapy came into Eddie’s life, his world lit up again. In the music, Eddie finds himself again and the drummer in Eddie shines through. To Nordoff Robbins, we are so grateful, because in these moments of music, Eddie is transformed and I get my husband back.”

Dr Mike Devine, consultant Psychiatrist at NELFT Older Adult Mental Health Team and Memory Service, where Nordoff Robbins deliver music therapy, adds:

“Dementia is far more than just a cognitive disorder, it affects the whole person. We need interventions that really highlight what people can contribute, on a social and creative level, and music therapy is ideal in that regard.”

“Music isn’t a luxury, or an add-on extra,” Simon adds, “it’s an intrinsic part of being human and as such we must seek to make sure that everyone with dementia has access to music services that are appropriate for their needs.”

For more information:

Contact: Tanya Gerreli, Nordoff Robbins Communications Manager

Tanya.gerreli@nordoff-robbins.org.uk / 0207 428 2754

About Nordoff Robbins

Nordoff Robbins is the largest independent music therapy charity in the UK, dedicated to changing the lives of vulnerable and isolated people.

We support thousands of people in our own centres and by working in partnership with a wide range of organisations including care homes, schools and hospitals.

When delivered by a trained practitioner, music therapy can be used to support people living with a wide range of needs. It can help a child with autism to communicate, reduce anxiety for those living with dementia or provide comfort and celebrate the life of someone facing terminal illness.

Music therapy can be life-changing for so many people.