Why music matters in care homes


Vera is a spirited, forthright lady living with dementia in a care home. She’s a new member of our Songs & Smiles group.

At our session on Friday she watched with fascination as the children started filling the room and instruments were passed around.  After our welcome song we launched into ‘Daisy, Daisy (A Bicycle Made For Two)’. Immediately, recognition and pure delight spread across her face. She knew every word and sang with gusto, her eyes locked onto mine and both of us smiling from ear to ear as we enjoyed an incredibly uplifting shared experience.

The evening before I had been at the House of Lords for the launch of a new report from the Commission on Dementia and Music. Chaired by Baroness Sally Greengross, the Commission’s objective is ‘to try to better understand the potential of music in helping us tackle one of the most pressing issues facing society’.

Dementia has an annual health and social care cost of £11.9bn in the UK. To put that into perspective, the bill for treating and managing cancer, stroke and chronic heart disease combined is £10.4bn. It’s estimated that one million of us will be living with dementia by 2025.

Agitation, depression, apathy and anxiety are some of the defining symptoms of the condition, reported to affect around 80% of people living with dementia in care homes. A diagnosis can be a deeply distressing event for patients and their loved ones.

So it’s heartening to learn that a systematic review of evidence supports what has long been said anecdotally: music offers a potential lifeline for people living with the condition. Music-based interventions are not just a ‘nice-to-have’, they provide tangible, measurable benefits. These include:

  • minimising the behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia

  • tackling anxiety and depression

  • retaining speech and language

  • enhancing quality of life

  • minimising anxiety and discomfort during palliative and end-of-life care

  • improving caregiving by families, service providers and care staff after music-related training

Estimates suggest high-quality arts and music provision may currently be available in just 5% of care homes
— Report by the Commission on Dementia and Music

That’s the good news. The bad news is that educated estimates suggest high-quality arts and music provision may currently be available in just 5% of care homes. This means that thousands of people living with dementia are missing out on a simple, cost-effective, joyful way of improving their day-to-day lives.

The report is the start of ‘an ambitious and tenacious journey to ensure and enable the right for all to access music’, says the Commission. It lists a range of recommendations and action points to achieve this, calling on the NHS, CCGs, local authorities, the voluntary sector, the music industry and other key stakeholders to get involved. The Together Project is proud to be delivering measurable outcomes in this field already, and we hope that the 1 million of us living with the condition in seven years’ time will be reaping the benefits of our collective action.

To read the report, visit www.ilcuk.org.uk.