Music is the most commonly accessed arts-based activity for people living with dementia. Music can enable people living with dementia to feel a strengthened sense of self-identity and connectedness to other people. Many family members and professional carers report that the effects of music do not last very long for a person living with dementia, but this does not devalue the experiences people living with dementia have ‘in the moment’. The possibility that the person living with dementia might not remember their time with music doesn’t seem to matter, it is the powerful and meaningful experiences held ‘in the moment’ which are reported as being important. There has been very little research which seeks to understand these ‘in the moment’ benefits of music for people living with dementia. My PhD therefore sought to begin to understand what the ‘in the moment’ benefits of music are for a person living with dementia, and how we might measure these.

As part of the research, I followed one community-based Music in Mind programme over 15-weeks. I used three video cameras to capture the sessions, which allowed me to return to the ‘in the moment’ experiences time and time again when reviewing the footage. I also took excerpts of the video back to the people living with dementia who were taking part in the programme in order for them to have an opportunity to comment on their experiences from their own perspective.

Findings

Living a Life Story through Music

People with dementia were able to share their life story through music. They did not have to use words but conveyed their favourite styles of music and preferred musical instruments through their body movements, emotions and interactions with other group members

Being ‘in the Moment’ with Music

People with dementia were seen to be skilled musicians and demonstrated their creativity through bringing the music they created to life through exaggerated facial expression and gesture. People with dementia felt a sense of connection through music, being able to have conversations without the need for words, and using eye contact and physical touch to share their love of the moment with others.

Musical Ripples into Everyday Life

People with dementia were seen to engage with music outside of the Music in Mind programme. One group member bought herself a radio because she said she missed music when the sessions were over. Other participants visited art galleries and museums, meaning they engaged more with cultural institutions in their local communities.

Take home messages

The benefits of music may not last long after a music session but this does not devalue what the person with dementia experienced ‘in the moment’.

Music connects people living with dementia to other people without the need for words.

We must remember that people with dementia have the capacity to be creative, and affording opportunities to be creative is as important as allowing opportunities for reminiscence.

Dr Robyn Dowlen