Students use music to improve lives of people with dementia



Student nurses at Liverpool John Moores University are tuning in to music to help improve their professional practice.

Hundreds are undergoing training with Playlist For Life, a charity which advocates taking people living with dementia down a musical memory lane.

“Songs that make us happy are something that we keep coming back to throughout our lives,” explains Dean McShane, lecturer in mental health nursing at LJMU.

“No matter what age we are, we all have these songs that mean something to us. They form a kind of personal soundtrack to our lives and they can help us with our mental health.”

Dean, who is organising the training, wants students to use music as an alternative treatment as they go about their placements and professional practice.

So far, more than 200 LJMU 'Dementia Ambassadors' have done the Playlist for Life course and many have started to create personal playlists that patients can relax to and be stimulated by.

Ava Milligan, a third year Adult Nursing student has been taking the practice out to the dementia clinic at Liverpool Royal hospital. She said: “It’s quite rewarding to take something that we learn in university out into practice.

“You worry about people who just take medication and where they find their joy and their stimulation to continue enjoying life.”

“This is a really proactive, innovative way of bringing happiness to people living with dementia, thorough music.”

John Wells, a third year Adult nursing student, who has been on placement with Merseycare, agreed: “It’s so nice. You see people’s eyes and their whole face just lights up. It’s that where families can have a meaningful conversation, rather than talking about what’s happening now; it’s some nice memories for them to go back to together.”

Dean says that the idea, which started out at Stanford University in the US, is well embedded in research and clinical practice. “Research shows that music has many benefits for our mental health and wellbeing. We know how music can lift our mood due to the release of dopamine, which can rise by as much as 9% when we play a song that we enjoy.

“Music as a therapy can also help with symptoms of depression and can reduce the symptoms of anxiety.”

And he says getting students involved not only increases their knowledge of dementia treatments but also boosts their confidence that they can have an impact as nursing professionals.

“When students go out into care settings in the community – and are able to tell us how their training has helped individuals living with dementia and their carers and families, it’s so rewarding.”

The LJMU Dementia Ambassadors will be at Sefton Park Palm House on January 30, from 11am, to help the public get started on their own ‘Playlist for Life’.

See Dean's latest research on music and dementia published this month in Mental Health Practice



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