Ever get chills listening to a particularly moving piece of music? You can thank the salience network of your brain for that. Surprisingly, the part of our brain that appreciates music is spared from the memory losses usually associated with dementia.

Listening to music is a key part of life. We know it can alter our moods and trigger memories, but for 850,000 people in the UK who live with dementia, listening to music helps, not just with recall, but has measurable medical benefits, too. It can reduce depression, lower blood pressure and help with speech, language and co-ordination.

A dementia care practitioner is promoting the use of music to assist those living with the condition. Karen Tidy is a Senior Nurse working with Frome Nursing Home, the 60-bed nursing and care home. She recently spoke to the BBC about her research and findings.

The home uses music as part of their Household Model of Care which creates a homely, domestic environment for everyone living there, who are referred to as family members. Whether being taken out to see a singing group or listening to mp3 players with comfortable headphones, access to music is seen as therapeutic, and is a powerful mood changing tool. For instance, if a person living with dementia is resisting gentle encouragement to get dressed, playing soothing music, especially a favourite song, can help, especially if it is a piece remembered from the listener’s youth. Then, they are often compelled to join in as they dress, their initial reluctance to do so, forgotten.

Many carers agree that they regularly see the positive effects that music can have with anyone living with dementia. Patients who were thought to be non-verbal, often start to tap their feet and sing along. Karen says that using music when treating dementia is like watering a wilted flower, causing the person to perk up.

79-year old Emma Tanner, from Frome Nursing Home, has a brain injury that affects her short-term memory, in much the same way as dementia would. She says music is her thread of life. She’s from a musical family and leant to play guitar and organ, and regularly sang at Church events with her siblings.

Emma describes music as her comforter and says, “If I feel fed up, I pick up my guitar and all’s right again.” She says she carries songs in her head the whole time, and music is like a pathway for her.

For those living in the later stages of dementia, when spoken communication can be difficult, music can help the walls of a nursing home fade away. It stimulates parts of the brain that other treatments fail to reach, making any journey with dementia, a better and a more melodic one.

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