What it takes to be nominated for the Advancing Healthcare Awards – Music and dementia: changing how we care

Now is the time to submit your entries for the Advancing Healthcare Awards (AHA’s) 2019. As previous winners, Chroma now sponsors an award for ‘realising potential through creativity’.

One of last year’s finalists for the Chroma award was Hazel Child, a registered music therapist who worked in a day centre, run by Guild Care, for people with advanced dementia. There, Hazel provided music therapy to one group of service users, but wanted to be able to reach a much wider population of service users who were not able to access the sessions due to funding constraints.

She asked Music as Therapy International, a skill sharing charity, to extend their pilot project to this setting, and the  award nominated project ‘Music and Dementia: Changing how we care’ enabled Hazel to demonstrate the benefits of music to those with dementia whilst simultaneously improving the confidence in both client and carer.

According to a recent ‘commission on dementia and music’, music is the single most effective tool in reaching people with dementia, but only 5% of care facilities are using it effectively.  “Music helps to minimise some of the symptoms of dementia, such as agitation, and can help to tackle anxiety and depression. We can also observe the considerable value of music in improving the quality of life for people with dementia, by helping to increase social interaction and decreasing stress hormones.” Taken from ‘What would life be – without a song or dance, what are we?’  Jan 18th 2018.

Working with 5 staff from different units over 6 weeks and the selection of service users staff had identified, Hazel used a structure pioneered by Music as Therapy in countries as diverse as Romania and Palestine; initially running small music groups using therapeutic music techniques for staff to observe and participate in, and gradually handing over the leadership role until carers were leading and Hazel was supporting.  Together they developed a booklet describing the activities and goals of the groups as an ongoing resource and staff were presenting with copies of this, and certificates at the end of the course.

Groups were improvised music sessions, with instruments – simple percussion and vocals. There is no need to be a professional musician to use music like this, and it is based in observing what people offer and the speed at which they are moving, and using their innate rhythms and familiar fragments of melody.  Those with dementia need time to process, so it’s important not to move too quickly, and allow plenty of time.  Of course, carers are very familiar with this concept, and use their own knowledge of their clients to ‘tune in’ to them to best advantage.

Music as therapy is a creative outlet for difficult emotions, which can be hard to manage and express, especially for those with dementia. Clients reported feeling lighter, freer, energised and more awake after a session.  People with difficult or stressful home circumstances were able to use the sessions to discharge some feelings without actually having to talk about it. People who no longer have language to communicate with appeared more cheerful and alert, relaxed and in touch. The playfulness of the sessions encouraged laughter, and a sense of being heard and understood.

Hazel strongly believes that music is a framework in which one can express themselves without words, and reconnect with other people, which is vital in battling loneliness and isolation, especially as our population ages, and resources become increasingly difficult to obtain. It is an effective tool of which its importance should not be overlooked, or treated as entertainment or a luxury extra.

‘Music and Dementia: Changing how we care’ has proved itself a sustainable and worthwhile project. Guild Care staff have continued to run these groups and successfully build self-confidence in clients as well as in the carer’s abilities. Skills were transferable and Hazel trained staff to continue delivering music as therapy effectively in order to achieve the best outcome for the residents.

This project reflects the high standard of work that is recognised at the AHA’s and expect the same in 2019. If you are another outstanding healthcare professional, inspiring change within the healthcare sector, remember to submit your entry to the AHA’s soon.

Enter the: Chroma award for Realising potential through creativity at the Advancing Healthcare Awards here: The submission deadline for entries is 17:00 14 January 2019.