Louise Braithwaite

Music for Dementia Care

The effect of musical participation for someone living with Dementia can be transformative and surprising, even to family and carers who know the person well.

Joining in or simply listening with purpose seems to afford many people living with Dementia some centred time, a single focus for those precious few minutes, and some respite from feelings of anxiety and restlessness. Family members report that their loved one enjoys a sense of relaxation and that they value having a high quality, personally tailored experience with them. They say that it feels special to have a personalised, responsive and intimate performance take place just for them.

Many people with Dementia enjoy listening to familiar recordings. My observation from working in this field is that there is a marked difference in people's demeanour and level of alertness and engagement when a live acoustic instrument is being played in the room, in comparison to recorded music, and that the live experience is a heightened one.

I introduce myself and new sounds sensitively, taking care not to startle clients, and constantly monitor people's responses. Emotions of all kinds can come to the surface and people tell me this is welcome. The music, and the reminiscence it brings, give permission to be emotionally expressive in a safe, caring environment. My duo colleagues and I are emotionally astute and sensitive musicians, able to read and respond swiftly to emotional lability and changing need within a session. We laugh, and sometimes cry together.

Many of the pieces I offer have been suggested to me by clients I've met, with very warm responses when I take a 'new' piece back. Even where a client may not recall previously requesting a title, they invariably sing along to it with great enjoyment. I love being asked, "Do you know....?"

People who now find conversation difficult or impossible because of their Dementia are often able to tap along, smile, gesture, move and even dance to the music. Sometimes they are able to sing words to songs they know even when speech has become a challenge. It doesn't matter if the language used is muddled. What matters is the enjoyment of self-selected participation.

I and my freelance duo colleagues have been trained by MindSong Charity's qualified Music Therapists in delivery of music to those living with Dementia, thanks our prior involvement with MindSong's partnership with Orchestra of the Swan. 

Please be aware that the sessions I offer are for Wellbeing and Relaxation and are not clinical Music Therapy. I am not a clinical Music Therapist.