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Nursing students trained in using music to help dementia patients

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Student nurses in Glasgow are the first in the UK to have access to a new online training course teaching them how to use personalised music to support people living with dementia.

The training programme is being rolled out to 600 first-year nursing students at Glasgow Caledonian University in partnership with Playlist for Life, the charity behind it.

“If it is an effective intervention, it will be more sustainable for the future”

Anna Paisley

Playlist for Life was founded by broadcaster and writer Sally Magnusson in 2013, after observing the effect of personalised music on her mother who had dementia.

The charity’s core work is to encourage families, carers and clinicians to offer people with the condition a playlist of the music that has been meaningful to them during their life.

An online training package for care organisations was launched by the charity in March, followed by the recent roll out of education to the university’s fist-year students.

The package is designed to help carers set up personalised music playlists on digital devices. It has been developed by Playlist for Life and Andrew Lowndes, research fellow and lecturer at the university’s School of Health and Life Sciences.

The charity claimed take-up of its online course had been “strong”, with nearly two-thirds of student nurses having undertaken the training around a week after it became available.

Glasgow Caledonian University

Students learning to use music to help dementia patients

Andy Lowndes

Mr Lowndes, a mental health nurse, who is also deputy chair of the charity, said: “Personalised music’ is all the songs that make up the playlist of a person’s life – the music of their youth, the first dance at their wedding, the songs they sang to their children – or that their mothers sang to them as children.

“When people with dementia listen to personalised music it can help them to recall memories, reconnect with loved ones and restore a sense of safeness and security in a world that feels increasingly alien,” he said.

He added: “We are really excited that Playlist for Life’s close relationship with GCU means it is the first university in the UK to ensure the next generation of nurses has access to this powerful tool. We hope other universities will take up the training and do the same.”

In addition, Playlist for Life said it had developed a series of short films to teach nursing staff how to create a “playlist for life” and then how to use it to improve care.

“When people with dementia listen to personalised music it can help them to recall memories, reconnect with loved ones and restore a sense of safeness and security”

Andy Lowndes

Meanwhile, researchers were working to “contribute evidence-based research to deepen Playlist for Life’s understanding of the reach and applications of personalised music”, said the charity.

It includes a six-month study in which PhD research student Anna Paisley is working with hospital patients, family members and nurses in Fife to establish if familiar music helps to reduce dementia-related anxiety from being in an unfamiliar environment.

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

“I believe this is the first mixed-methods project of this type in Scotland,” said Ms Paisley, noting that it was being led by Helen Skinner, Alzheimer Scotland dementia nurse consultant at NHS Fife.

Glasgow Caledonian University

Student nurses trained to use music to help dementia patients

Anna Paisley

“If it is an effective intervention, it will be more sustainable for the future,” she said. “It also supports the Scottish government’s emphasis on delivering a range of non-pharmacological therapeutic interventions.”

Ms Paisley is also working with Edinburgh-based researchers on a project to create a personalised music playlist app for Playlist for Life, which aims to provide all dementia patients with access to “personally meaningful music and its benefits”.

The project will ensure the app is built upon a “robust body of research”, which the charity said would identify the needs of those living with dementia in order to co-design and trial it in communities and institutions across the UK.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • I have always had this unique foresight of how incredibly soothing the mbira sound does to patients with mental health challenges. One day in May 1994 I brought a traditional instrument called MBIRA in Zimbabwe to a large tertiary psychiatric hospital and played it to very disturbed Schizophrenic and Bipolar patients in one ward I was working.The results were short of amazing. The patients stopped and sat down to listen and began saying that the music was wonderful and their disturbed behaviour appeared to have vanished. This resulted in my colleagues requesting more episodes like these and I gladly responded like-wise. The 4 years I worked at this tertiary Psychiatric hospital never saw me without music in the ward: with wonderful results too.

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