People living with dementia should be given music or dance therapy, the UK Health Secretary has said.

At a reception hosted by the Prince of Wales at Clarence House, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said, “Dementia can devastate the lives of people affected by it and, although there is not yet a cure, I believe we can do more to improve the lives of people with the condition.”

“In particular, I want to combat over-medicalisation and dishing out pills when it’s not in the best interests of the patient,” he said.

“There is increasing evidence suggesting music can bring calm to people with dementia by reducing agitation and supporting those affected to cope better with symptoms.”

Music can bring people living with dementia to life

Coles McDonnell, dementia excellence practitioner with Scalabrini, told HelloCare that music and dance are “very good” for people living with dementia, but he explained the music has to relate to the person.

“We have to make sure we get the music they like,” he said.

Mr McDonnell said he has seen the effect music can have on people living with dementia. He told the story of one man who was living in care and inert. His carers asked his family what music he liked, and, after finding out, they began to play Greek Orthodox church music to him.

“It brought him to life,” Mr McDonnell said, explaining that it improved the quality of his life.

The memory and emotion centres in the brain are connected, Mr McDonnell said, so when people living with dementia hear music from a significant period in their life, they are often taken back to that time and can remember the music and emotions they felt.

Mr McDonnell said he saw a situation where a person living with dementia, who was at the stage they didn’t recognise their husband, heard music she knew, but it was played with one wrong note inserted. The woman recognised the wrong note.

People who have trouble walking find they can dance!

“Dancing is the same,” Mr McDonnell said.

People who can barely walk can all of a sudden dance when they hear the right tunes.

Mr McDonnell said he has seen a row of mobility devices lined up outside a room, only to find an Elvis impersonator inside and everyone up and dancing!

They key is finding music each individual relates to

Mr McDonnell said he has surveyed aged care residents and his research found that the most popular music was Led Zeppelin.

He said it’s important to recognise that the people going into care now were young in the fifties and sixties, and they will often like music such as The Beatles or The Rolling Stones.

But the main thing is to find music each person has a connection with, he said. It may be music they have an emotional response to, or they may have heard it when they were growing up or in church. It may be the song that was played at their wedding, or that they listened to on repeat after a breakup. Whatever it is, it must relate to the person.

There are currently nearly 450,000 people living with dementia in Australia. That number is expected to rise to more than one million within forty years. There is currently no cure for dementia so the focus with care is increasingly becoming improving the lives of people who are living with the condition.

Please note: The image used to illustrate this article does not represent actual people or events. Image: iStock.

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