“One little story – Harry and Margaret O’Donnell had difficulty communicating – he hadn’t spoken for some months – they put 27 songs onto his playlist – Margaret had a splitter cable so she could listen with Harry – One day he threw his hands in air and started to sing – it was “Three times a lady” by The Commodores, their love song, and he hadn’t spoken for months.” – Andy Lowndes
Andy: We are a music and dementia charity.
What we try to do is raise awareness of the power of personally meaningful music for those living with dementia. Even in the late stages of the disease people are able to respond to the music that’s been part of the soundtrack of their lives. That music often has autobiographical and emotional connections, and these can be a lifeline if you are living with dementia, as music seems to enable people to access those memories.
We’ve been going for five years, we are UK wide, we are a music and dementia charity.
I had witnessed as a nurse the impact that music can have on people with dementia, I had seen people seemingly out of it, but able to respond to music and then I met Sally Magnusson, Magnus’ daughter. Sally ‘s mother had dementia – they had kept her at home, and found that medication didn’t help her at all – they found that the songs that were the soundtrack to her life, sung together, at parties and Hogmanay, those songs sung to her, had a remarkable effect – even when she had lost the power to communicate, she could tune in and sing from start to finish, and she could harmonise.
The family started to use this – she was scared of the bath – so they’d sing her into the bath.
When she died, they asked the question if this was just luck or a more general help to people with dementia.
When I met Sally, I was an academic and had done some work on reminiscence and while we talked about doing some research, we decided “let’s not worry about the research right now, it makes sense, let’s just do it.”
Five years later, we have a small staff, but we don’t want to become big. We want to work with existing agencies that provide care.
We really want to just spread the work and it’s a simple message. We need an awareness campaign – a big awareness campaign and we need to attract funding for that.
There are 850k people with dementia and that will soon be a million, because we are living longer. Around two thirds of those are still living at home – as well as they can – so it’s not all about care homes and end of life. Want to get people who have just been diagnosed to build their playlists. We want to build an army of volunteer Music Detectives who can help them to build soundtrack of their life.
Andy: Well there’s no-one that I’ve worked with yet that it hasn’t worked for. But it’s not a panacea. The impact might not always be as remarkable as with Harry O’Donnell singing to his wife but what we know is that people seem to enjoy their music again and it can have positive effects on mood, agitation, depression and things that we hadn’t anticipated such as the effect on the persons loved ones and the paid carers that are involved too.
When you think of a playlist you sometimes have to think out of the box a bit. I recall a family who said, “dad didn’t like music. I said, what did he like? Ok football – what team – Aberdeen – so we got the songs, from the 50s to the 70s that they sang on the terraces – and he did like music!
We did – one of the original trustees was a music psychologist. There has been a great deal of research been done into the effect of music on the person living with dementia and you can find a summary of this on our website. We have partnerships with UNIs and academics who want to do the research such as The Centre For Dementia Prevention at Edinburgh University.
Research and evidence is important – otherwise it’s just something that happens. But it’s early days for the research in UNIs. But our mission is to get everyone a playlist – and we want to do this quickly.
For us, some things have been very beneficial, e.g. staff culture changes. It’s a tough job, being a carer – We’ve found that if you give staff training into a tool like this their confidence grows.
It just adds to the quality of life of people with dementia – they are not so stressed.
One little story – Harry and Margaret O’Donnell had no communication – he hadn’t spoken for six months – they put 27 songs on his playlist – she had a split cable to listen one day – he started to sing – it was “Three times a lady” by The Commodores, their love song, and he hadn’t spoken for six months.
The nature of the relationship changes from wife/lover to carer when someone goes into a care home – but getting their music back and all the memories – it helps people to fall in love again. It’s the same for kids and grandkids. To get grandkids involved with someone you can’t relate to is hard – but they can build a playlist for them.
Andy: In the last year alone 2016/17 Playlist for Life:
– Encouraged and helped individuals create 4,007 playlists
– Contacted 21,000 people about Playlist for Life
– Spoke to 12,000 people directly at talks and events
-We are now setting up 150 Playlist Help Points across the UK in the next year
– We trained 1,600 care professionals and 98 health and care organisations
– Dispatched 272 iPods to people with dementia/their carers
In Scotland, we are working with 11 out of the 14 health boards. All over England from London to Rochdale and all points in between we have carried out our training with NHS Trusts and Social Care Groups and Care Homes.
Apart from this we make a lot of our resources available online and the honest answer is I can’t tell you how many are accessing these materials without getting back in touch with us, though there are some stories and testimonials on the website from those who do get in touch.– we promote it on our website and a lot of people go “that’s a great idea” – so we don’t know – we do get stories back on the website
– In the last year our Facebook followers has increased to nearly 5,000 and 3,600 twitter followers
If we get involved early enough, the family normally do it themselves.
Later, it’s more difficult if the person with dementia can’t tell you what was the soundtrack of their life. We use a song book of 100 songs in 100 years – but we may have to go through 1500 songs – something will mean something, and they go Ohhh! – and that one goes in.
The songs are important, but the memory attached to the song is great – we have to ask questions build a story – then you can create a story and the soundtrack – it’s a connection through the memories
When families later in the journey visit their loved one who has dementia the music enables them to connect and say “remember this dad” – It can make connecting easier and it avoids those awkward moments when people just don’t know what to say.
Andy: Yes, the human connections matter – it’s not just 2pm so you need the iPod. It’s the engagement. The human connection that key to this.
It’s where some of the number cruncher scientists struggle – but, it is important – -we say connecting people, music and memories, and people are central to that.
It’s not about headphones. But they do allow people to concentrate as they get older.
Andy: It was a name given to me – I when building playlists with families, had to gather evidence – in the house, or the care home – as a detective I recognised I had to be a nosy person – that’s ok – it’s about asking lots and lots of questions and being genuinely interested in the answers.
The persons biography gives clues to, for example the phenomena of the ‘memory bump’ that time of our lives between the ages of 10 and 30 years old when we gather more memories than at any other time of our lives.
Music has probably for most of us been a big part of that. So as a detective if I can find your birth year I can search for songs from the years when you would be between 10 and 30 years old and try them. Some of those songs will probably be on your playlist.
If you get 20 songs with 20 memories, it’s a unique personal story
It’s a big hospital – Queen Elizabeth in Glasgow – biggest in the country – they had a radio station and asked us to volunteer. On Tuesday, it’s going to be Andy the music detective on the radio – chat, music, memories, and play tunes they ask for. I’m looking forward to giving it a go and hearing about peoples musical memories.
There’s really not one – each playlist for life is unique to someone’s life.
Andy: Well what’s the aim for us Playlists for Life? I’d have a ‘wakey wakey’ song – what gets you up in the morning.
I ‘e been listening to music that’s a bit melancholic – a guy called Paul Buchanan, a Scotsman – on first listen it seems sad, but it’s not.
Hanna Peel is a musician we know, who’s very good, and whose grandma has dementia – she has an album, Mary Casio: Journey to Casseopia – melancholic at times, but lovely.
My playlist will be thematic. It’d be pretty eclectic – even some classical – some of it could have been on my father’s playlist – on Sundays we had a traditional roast Sunday dinner and my father would line us up and he’d walk to the gramophone and play, say My Fair Lady, till we did the dishes.
Records or CDs? Records.
Downloads or streaming? Both. Streaming lately. I’ve been using Tidal a bit lately too.
Albums or Singles? Singles. In my day you were locked into a genre, but not anymore.
Human or algorithmic curation? Human.
Host or Listener? Both, but probably host.
Play in order or shuffle? Shuffle.
Headphones or speakers? Speakers.
Tupac or Biggie? Biggie.
Lead singer, guitarist or drummer? Singer. It’s my ego!
Andy: We have an event coming up – Deacon Blue is going to do an “in the round” concert for us – for 200 people only.
And we have a big awareness campaign planned. We are looking for funding for that.
We are not great at asking people for money. So please feel free to donate. But we have a good relationship with Universal music, we are their staff charity and hope we get some momentum from that.
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