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Playlist for Life: personal music for dementia

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by Sally Lawton, Pilot Lead, AberdeenshirePlaylist

Personal playlists are a cheap, simple and powerful way to harness meaningful music to lessen anxiety, improve mood and comfort for the person with dementia and strengthen relationships and communication with family, carers and friends. The charity, Playlist for life, was set up in 2013 by the broadcaster, Sally Magnusson. She had cared for her mother, using music to calm her and said, “when I was looking after my mother, I would have given anything for someone to say, ‘Try this. It’s not a cure but it can help. You can still have moments of happiness and flashes of joy’……..no-one says that very often to people living with dementia.”

Playlists are simple and fun to create.  They begin by thinking about music that has meaning. For example, songs that were sung in childhood, a theme tune that is a reminder of a specific event or people  - such as meeting a partner, having children, going out with friends etc. Ideally, the person recalls the piece of music themselves.

If the person is unable to recall specific music, there are some ‘music detective’ skills that can be used to help identify potential playlist songs. This may be compiled by a family member, a carer or a trained volunteer at a Playlist for Life Help Point.

Music detective skills include considering:

  • The ‘memory bump’ - songs from when a person was 10 – 30
  • Inheritance tracks – music associated with important people in someone’s life
  • Heritage music – related to where someone is from, their culture and religion, their family background, local dialects and languages

Playlist for Life have guidance for finding music on their website - www.playlistforlife.org.uk

The playlist can be noted down on a piece of paper, in a music journal (also available on the website) or stored electronically. The music can be sung with the person, played on existing music players, on an MP3 player or streamed using an online music service or even watched on Youtube.

Playlist for Life are expanding across Scotland and are now looking for help points across Aberdeenshire. Ideally, a help point has:

  • A physical space already used by people with dementia or their family members.
  • Existing volunteer structures, so that volunteers are already PVG or disclosure checked.
  • Space to display an A2 poster.
  • Space near the poster to display materials which can be taken away by anyone interested.
  • At least one trained volunteer.
  • Space to run a ‘Cuppa Time’ event at least once a month, where people can pop in to ask any questions they might have over a cup of tea.

Training for help point volunteers is provided free of charge. If you think your group would like to know more about Playlist for Life or the training that is offered, please contact Sally Lawton or Yvonne Ouston at: SallyLawton@playlistforlife.org.uk or yvonne@playlistforlife.org.uk.

www.playlistforlife.org.uk is the website address , full of useful information about the charity’s work, other training opportunities and how to create a playlist.

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