Music should be be a recognised, formal part of dementia care, according to a charity set up almost 10 years ago by broadcaster Sally Magnusson.

Playlist for Life said it had seen “multiple benefits” since the initiative was launched, including a 60 per cent reduction in the use of sedative drugs at one Glasgow care home.

It is calling on the Scottish Government to reassess the role of music in health and social care by including personalised playlists in dementia policy for the first time.

The Glasgow charity provides free advice and support to people affected by the disease to create their own playlist. 

According to research, the most formative years for memory making is between the ages of 10 and 30 and it is suggested that playlists contain music from those years.

Experts say they can be used in times of crisis to calm and build trust with patients and loved ones, and can be used at all stages of dementia.

The charity says there is evidence that listening to music leads to a reduction in changes in behaviour and emotion that may cause distress, a reduction in decreased nutrition and improved levels of focus while performing tasks.

In an NHS dementia ward in Fife, researchers found the diversionary technique significantly reduced levels of agitation and led to patients becoming markedly less stressed during clinical procedures in 96% of cases.  
Willy Gilder, 69, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in April 2022, says creating a playlist “rewired” him.

He said: “It allowed me to get back a connection with drawing and painting – something I’ve loved doing since I was five years old. 

“When I was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, I lost all interest in art and I was baffled, bewildered, lost, because this was something central to me – it was part of my identity.  

HeraldScotland: Playlist for Life Playlist for Life (Image: Playlist for Life)

“I knew that music was known to have therapeutic remedies relating to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease so, for weeks, I sat and listened to 60s music like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.  

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He added: “Over time, my passion for art was reignited – and it wasn’t an instant hit: one day I didn’t just wake up and was full of the passion that I had before, it was more akin to re-energising a muscle that hasn’t been used in a while. But, it was joyous.”

An estimated 90,000 people are  living with dementia in Scotland, with an around 20,000 being diagnosed every year. 

HeraldScotland: Playlist for Life Playlist for Life (Image: Playlist for Life)

Michelle Armstrong-Surgenor, the executive director at Playlist for Life, says it is easy to train practitioners in the “person-centred lost low-cost intervention” and says it has the potential to offset costs associated with long-term dementia by reducing dependency on anti-psychotic medication.

She said: “Our ultimate goal is for everyone living with dementia in the UK to have access to their own personalised playlist.

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“There are over 2,000 Help Points sharing personalised playlists in their local communities – in settings like libraries and carers centres – and we’ve trained almost 9,000 healthcare and social care professionals who are using playlists in their care for people with dementia, in settings ranging from care homes to A&E wards. 

“We’d like to see Scottish Government formally introduce the use of personalised playlists into health and social care policy so that every person living with dementia has access to their own playlist.  

“Personalised playlists are widely used by people living with dementia at home and in Scottish care homes and NHS wards as it stands. 

“However, it is often considered an ‘add on’ to the official care plan – we would like to see it as an integral part of dementia care.” 

Playlist for Life was founded in 2013 by  Sally Magnusson after the death of her mother, Mamie, who had dementia. 

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