England & Wales Communities and society, Health and social care, HR, workforce and communications, Technology

What song takes you back? Supporting people with dementia.


Image by egonkling from Pixabay

I’d bet there’s a song that instantly takes you back to a moment in time, a period in your life, a feeling you had sharing the song with someone else. I bet there’s more than one. I bet you could pull together a whole playlist that would take you back to moments of joy and sadness and even nostalgia for the daft stuff you used to get up to (or maybe still do).

Dan Cohen is the Executive Director of Music & Memory, a charity which aims to support dementia sufferers with access to music. He thinks you should pull together that playlist now. And he has good reason to say so. Music & Memory has been bringing personalised playlists to care facilities and hospitals in the US for ten years and has solid research to back up their claims that playing music will help people those who are withdrawn become more social, those who are agitated become calmer and those who are immobile become more active.

But not just any music, it has to be their music. A personalised playlist delivered through headphones from an easy to use device – pretty much always an iPod. It has to be music that has meaning, personal meaning. And apparently what means the most to most people is music from their childhood and teen years, but not always.  Where giving people music hasn’t helped so much is when people are hard to reach and either without family or their families don’t know what music touches them.  Dan advises us all to make our playlists which he says are as individual as a fingerprint and to make them accessible to those who care about us.

The work of Music & Memory has been featured in a documentary Alive Inside: A Story of Memory and Music (available on Netflix) and this clip – Henry’s Story is well worth watching.

Music & Memory is well-established in the US, is growing in the Netherlands and elsewhere on the Continent and they’ve begun to work here. Northamptonshire County Council has started a trial in a handful of care homes and nursing homes, but the charity is hoping to get wider uptake in the UK.  It’s worth noting that while most of their work has focused on the benefits of music to people with advanced dementia, they’ve also found benefits to people in earlier stages of dementia, people suffering mental illness, children and adults with learning disabilities – including those with behavioural problems.

They have an evidence pack Making the Case For Personalized Music: A Guide for Care Professionals (available here). It could do with a bit of UK-ing up, but is an excellent support for anyone who’s interested in exploring or introducing this programme.



Ingrid Koehler is a Service Innovation Lead at LGiU and leads on the Technology & Transformation and Caring for People policy themes.

This is her playlist, what’s yours?

Pretty much any version of Rocky Top, Troubled Man by the Carter Family, Blue Yodel Number 1 by Jimmie Rodgers, La Pistola y El Corazon – Los Lobos, White Lightnin’ -George Jones,  Jackson – Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash, The Sweetest Thing – Carlene Carter, Proud Mary – Tina Turner, In My Tennessee Mountain Home – Dolly Parton, Peaceful Easy Feeling -The Eagles, One Way Out – The Allman Brothers, Bury Me – Dwight Yoakam,  the entire Absolute Torch and Twang album from K. D. Lang, Seven Year Ache – Roseanne Cash, Waterloo Sunset – The Kinks, Beethoven’s Concerto No 5 – just piano, no orchestra. For a start…