Bringing the benefits of live music to care homes and hospitals

Music in Hospitals & Care shares the joy and benefits of live music with the places that need it most.

The sweet and mellow sounds from a harp and flute fill the room with Mozart’s ‘Eine Kleine Nachtmusik’, and the audience is entranced.

While some sit motionless, eyes closed, others smile and tap their hands together in time to the music. Yet others raise and gently sway their arms, as if conducting an orchestra. 

When the music changes, a few mouth the lyrics to ballads from their past like ‘Danny Boy’ and ‘Scarborough Fair’. 

At one point, an audience member dances elegantly around the floor to a waltz. 

Residents at Belmont Residential Care Home in Abergavenny, south-east Wales, are being treated to exquisite live music from flautist Catherine Handley and harpist Eleri Darkins. 

The duo are just two of over 300 professional musicians, chosen for their musical talent, sensitivity and people skills, to work with the charity Music in Hospitals & Care.

A care home resident shows interest in the harp being played by Eleri Darkins

Moments of connection 

Music in Hospitals & Care celebrated its 75th anniversary last year. 

It brings interactive live music to people in hospitals, hospices, day centres, special schools and care homes all over the UK.

Its goal? Not only to share joy through live music, but also to enhance health and wellbeing, and to create moments of meaningful connection for people living with dementia. 

Musicians select songs that are specifically designed to help engage people with dementia and unlock precious memories. 

‘We play a diverse range of music, so we can try to reach as many people as possible,’ says harpist Eleri. 

We’ll typically choose a mix of classical pieces and traditional tunes, songs people might have sung as a child at school, or hymns from church or chapel, tunes from musicals and popular hits from the past by artists like Tom Jones, Elvis Presley and Petula Clarke.

Research has shown how live music in care settings can help decrease levels of agitation and increase wellbeing for people living with dementia.

A care home resident takes part in a live music session

Impact and insights 

Belmont Care Home manager Jo Griffiths and activity co-ordinator Sandie Newman have witnessed these impacts firsthand.

‘Our residents get real benefits from the sessions,’ says Jo. ‘They’re calm and engaged through an hourlong concert with no restlessness. 

Even those who are usually asleep a lot or who don’t interact much can become alert and interested, showing expressions of happiness. 

‘One lady who typically dislikes communal activities is always happy to sit and listen, and is the first to applaud after each piece. And another likes to dance. 

‘It’s an emotional experience for us, as their caregivers, to witness different sides to our residents like this, to catch glimpses of and insights into their past lives. It all helps to strengthen the bond we have with them.’

Sandie agrees, ‘We learn a lot about the people we care for through the music sessions. 

‘One lady surprised us all by singing the words to a John Denver song word-perfect, and we subsequently discovered from her family that she used to run a John Denver fan club as a younger woman. 

‘Instances like these really help us establish a connection. 

‘I now know that whenever I bring up John Denver in conversation with her, she’ll be fully engaged.’

Catherine Handley plays the flute in a care home

Individual engagement 

Back at the live session, flautist Catherine moves around the residents as she plays, engaging with them individually. 

Sandie goes from person to person, taking their hands and swaying them softly to ‘Amazing Grace’, singing along and encouraging anyone who wants to join in.

A resident expresses interest in playing the harp, and Eleri gladly agrees.

Sandie says she’s often surprised at the incredible way in which music affects the residents. 

‘It can calm them or energise them, and I’ve seen some cry with emotion too,’ she says. 

What’s also remarkable is how it can elicit a reaction from someone who might have been unresponsive for days. 

The music plays and it reaches them – it rekindles a spark in their eyes. That’s the power of it.

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Dementia together magazine

Dementia together magazine is for all Alzheimer’s Society supporters and anyone affected by the condition.
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Dementia together magazine is for all Alzheimer’s Society supporters and anyone affected by the condition.
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