Using music to comfort dementia patients in hospital

It is widely acknowledged that music can have a powerful effect on our emotions and moods. After the overwhelming success of a scheme to bring their favourite music to patients and their families at a Glasgow hospice, Scottish researchers have decided to analyse the effects of personalised music playlists on dementia patients in hospitals in the hope of extending the project to other hospices and hospitals. 

Writing for Scottish newspaper, The National, Janice Burns explains more....

Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) are carrying out a study on how effective personal music can be as an intervention for dementia in acute care.

PhD research student Anna Paisley will spend six months working with patients from Queen Margaret Hospital and Victoria Hospital in Fife, as well as family members and dementia nursing professionals, to find out if music familiar to people with dementia helps to reduce anxiety from being in an unfamiliar environment. There are 90,000 people with dementia in Scotland, with over 63 per cent of those living at home.

Going into hospital can be an unsettling experience for people with dementia and faced with an unfamiliar environment, people and routines can lead to stress and distress for the individual which can be difficult to manage.

The Prince and Princess of Wales Hospice in Glasgow was the first hospice in Scotland to pilot their Playlist for Life scheme with a patient and their family, and it was so successful there are plans to roll it out across the hospice services.

Jacquelyn Chpalin, Director of Clinical Services, Prince and Princess of Wales Hospice, Glasgow

Director of clinical services Jacquelyn Chaplin said:

​“The Playlist for Life pilot was an overwhelming success for our patient and family.
It gave the patient a focus and an opportunity to reflect on some memorable moments and happy times. The music that was chosen was personally significant and brought back joyful moments at a time of great challenge.
For the family it gave a great opportunity to share memories, to laugh and perhaps shed a tear together, and a real opportunity to celebrate the person’s life. We were also able to gift the family an album telling the stories that links with the patient’s playlist that they were able to keep after the patient’s death.
From a care perspective it gives our nurses the opportunity to really get to know the patient and focus on the person instead of the illness. We believe it is an important way of helping patients and families to tap in to what is deep and meaningful to them.”

The first stage of the GCU’s research will assess the impact of personalised music on the patients’ quality of life, the impact on the approach staff and carers have towards the patients, and the effects of the intervention on the stress levels of healthcare professionals working with dementia patients.

Paisley said: “I believe this is the first mixed-methods project of this type in Scotland.

“As it is being led by Alzheimer Scotland Dementia Nurse Consultant Helen Skinner and other health professionals, if it is an effective intervention, it will be more sustainable for the future.

“It also supports the Scottish Government’s emphasis on delivering a range of non-pharmacological therapeutic interventions.”

The project will also consider the effectiveness of technology required for providing the playlists.

In addition to her PhD, Paisley is research assistant on the Edinburgh and Lothian Health Foundation project to create a personalised music playlist app for charity Playlist for Life, which aims to ensure all those living with dementia have access to personally meaningful music and its benefits.

The Playlist for Life charity was founded by GCU Honorary Graduate Dr Sally Magnusson in 2013 after observing the effect of music on her mother.

For more information about the power of personalised playlists, visit the charity's Playlist for Life website

Article by Janice Burns, originally published in The National 24/11/15

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  • 12 December 2015