Residents in a care home

How music therapy sessions are supporting people with dementia in care homes

Music therapy can help to manage and reduce agitation, isolation, depression and anxiety in people with dementia. Learn more about how music therapy can support a better quality of life for people living with the condition.

Music therapy has the power to improve the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in our communities. 

Research has shown that music therapy can significantly improve and support the mood, alertness and engagement of people with dementia. As a result, music therapy sessions can often reduce the use of medication.  

It can also help people who may find it difficult to communicate verbally, whether due to a physical or cognitive disability, emotional distress or mental illness. 

Dancing during a TIME session in a care home

How music therapy works

Founded in 2014, Therapy in Musical Expression (TIME) is a music service that delivers live participatory performances in care homes across Essex.  

People with dementia in residential care are given opportunities for musical expression and experimentation. 

Residents are encouraged to collaborate with the instructors and engage in musical exercises that stimulate the mind, with focus on listening, responsiveness and fine motor skill usage.  

The dementia sessions, which generally last an hour, include songs from over the decades. Some of the most popular artists include Bill Haley, Neil Diamond, Elvis Presley, Cliff Richard and The Beatles. 

Ahead of care home visits, the team speaks with staff to take residents’ musical requests. The instructors want to perform songs of particular relevance and interest at each session. Family members and loved ones of the residents often come along and take part in sessions. 

Insights from the instructors 

During a number of different dementia sessions, there have been wonderful moments to witness. Rob Fillary, co-founder of TIME, tells us more. 

‘At one care home, we performed Can’t Help Falling in Love by Elvis Presley. This prompted two residents to go hand-in-hand and dance for the duration of the song.  

‘In that moment, it felt like they were the only two people in the world, sharing a moment of collective intimacy and a beautiful bond through music.’ 

Rob from TIME performing during a session

TIME often finds that music plays an important part in communication.

Rob says, ‘When initially meeting instructors - particularly for the first time – some residents with dementia have been verbally aggressive, scared and confused. 

‘However, when the sessions begin, their whole demeanour, body language and personality soon change.  

‘We see feet begin to tap, words come flooding back and the instruments given out at the start of sessions are soon being used.’ 

TIME has also seen people with dementia recall moments in their life that were prompted by the songs being performed.  

‘We’re told about first loves, favourite holidays, friends and family members’, Rob said.  

‘Sharing these memories sparks moments of reflection among the group, creating a warm environment of social embrace and discovery.’ 

Performance of Moon River

In another instance, Rob performed Andy Williams’ Moon River in a care home. He says, ‘It’s quite common for the room to fall silent during slow ballads while everybody listens.  

‘During this occasion, a soft and soothing voice emerged from the silence. It was a resident who had previously been introverted and quiet. She knew the song word for word, and we began to duet.  

‘I let this lady take the lead on vocals. She showcased her fantastic talent to her peers.’

Watch the video below:

Embracing the music

When performing rock and roll classics, Rob says it’s common for residents to sing, dance and foot-tap while aided by a member of staff.  

‘It’s not, however, common for residents to throw aside their walking frame and dance completely independently!’ 

A man with dementia at one care facility did exactly that, much to the surprise of fellow residents, staff members and the TIME instructors. 

Rob adds, ‘If this isn’t a clear illustration of music engulfing and enveloping one’s self to lose inhibitions in a positive and expressive way, then we don’t know what is!’ 

Next steps

  • Visit the TIME website to learn more about dementia sessions taking place across Essex, or send an email to ask TIME a question.

Thanks to the residents and management of Collins House care home in Corringham for permission to use the images and video. 

Find a local service

From activity groups to Dementia Cafés, our Dementia Directory can help you find local support services in England, Wales and Northern Ireland

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