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‘What would life be - without a song or a dance, what are we?’ A report from the Commission on Dementia and Music

Authors: Sally Bowell and Sally Marie Bamford

This report examines the existing landscape and future potential of using therapeutic music with people with dementia, which forms one of the most pressing health concerns of our time. Adopting a holistic approach, this report is unique in providing an overview of current music-based provision for people with dementia, the scope of this work and the associated evidence base. This report has been guided and informed by the Commission on Dementia and Music, made up of experts in the field.

Ultimately, the report shows that music can provide a true lifeline for those both with and without dementia by promoting social connection, restoring a sense of self and bringing joy even in the most challenging of times. The ability to connect to music is an innate aspect of being human; having a diagnosis of dementia need not undermine this.

We believe that everyone has a right to meaningful music and that too many people with dementia are living a life in silence. We want to help bring people back into the present moment, using music as a tool to achieve this.

This report draws several conclusions about the field of music and dementia:

● The field is currently characterised by devoted advocates operating in a complex and poorly coordinated ecosystem. The dementia and music environment is supported by a dedicated network of individuals and organisations, looking to grow the sector and keen for pragmatic options and recommendations to take this field of work forwards. We need to improve local information and data collection to ensure that both the public and professionals have everything they need to ensure that music reaches people with dementia.

● The field is defined by sporadic provision which is currently delivered only to the few. Educated estimates suggest that very few people currently receive the full range of music options and support. This is likely due to multiple reasons, including a lack of public understanding about the benefits of music, the high cost (or perceived high cost) of some types of intervention and the lack of a centralised overview of current provision. Furthermore, it is difficult to know how many people with dementia currently have access to music, largely due to a lack of data. We want to see provision reaching all people with dementia, including the most vulnerable individuals who may not have family or friends to speak on their behalf.

● Fortunately, the sector is supported by a promising evidence base which is quickly gaining traction. A growing research base, spanning some twenty to thirty years, is beginning to demonstrate the range of benefits of music for people with dementia. Whilst there are areas in which the evidence can be improved and strengthened (as outlined in the full report), there is much to be celebrated in the existing literature, which shows that music can promote a range of hugely beneficial outcomes for people with dementia. Moreover, when used appropriately and in a meaningful way, the use of music has no known negative impacts.

● The sector would greatly benefit from increased funding. Further developing cost-effectiveness research would be a critical factor in boosting recognition and funding. Statutory budgets, both of central and local governments, are currently tightly restricted and are likely to continue to be closely monitored in the coming years. This is combined with health and social care pressures associated with an ageing population. In this light, those dedicated to dementia and music need first-andforemost to focus on providing convincing cost-effectiveness evidence in order to be granted funding. Meanwhile, private sector and philanthropic organisations should recognise the importance and value of this field of work, and utilise their own resources and expertise to help grasp some of the opportunities available.

● We need to raise public awareness in order to maximise the potential of this field of work. As yet, the range of benefits that music can offer people with dementia appears to have not yet reached the general public. The value of music for people with dementia should be more clearly expressed in public-facing literature and a large-scale PR campaign would be highly valuable in raising awareness, winning over hearts-and-minds and ensuring an increased demand.