Staff at a Plymouth dementia care home say residents are coping better with simple daily routines because they have been listening to personalised playlists that appear to stimulate brain activity and influence behaviours.
The residents, at Butterfly Lodge in St Budeaux, have been provided with small MP3 players and comfortable headphones with 10 or 12 of the individual’s favourite songs, selected in consultation with that person or their family or close friends.
The bespoke playlists are an innovation by Purple Angel Music, established in 2012 by Devon man Norman (Norrms) McNamara who was diagnosed with young onset dementia at 50 and has since dedicated his life to improving life for others with the condition, and to creating a more dementia-friendly world.
Although dementia is characterised by a progressive decline in brain functions such as memory, understanding and thinking, studies in the USA have shown that the receptor in the brain which receives the music signal is never affected by dementia, and other research has proved that music lights up more parts of the brain than any other activity.
The bespoke playlists stimulate musical recollections stored deep inside the long-term memory and provide listeners with a unique and invaluable opportunity to feel more fulfilled in a world that can sometimes seem confusing and unfamiliar.
Abby Wiseman, who manages Butterfly Lodge, said: “When we heard about the Purple Angel MP3s we couldn’t wait to try them, because colleagues in the care sector were reporting that listening to these personalised MP3 really seemed to stimulate residents’ brain activity and switch on their emotions.
“We were told that if someone starts listening to their MP3 in the run-up to meal-time, the listener often shows signs of enjoying themselves more – moving about and singing along – and as a result often feels more like eating and drinking. And it’s true!
“One of our gents, Tom, suffers from agitated behaviours caused by noise, but when he’s listening to his favourite music through his headphones he’s no longer bothered by the hubbub in the dining room, and this means he is now able to join the other residents and take his meals in company, which is lovely.
“The people behind the Purple Angel MP3 idea don’t claim it works for everyone, but they have collated a lot of evidence over the last few years that listening to a personalised playlist through headphones does benefit many people living with dementia.
“And we agree with them that if it works for just a few people and helps them have a better quality of life, it is worthwhile. This strategy is non-invasive, non-medical and it makes people happier, so it’s a winner in my book.”
Playlists are also available for people living with dementia who are still in their own homes, in which case the music can be interlaced with spoken prompts reminding listeners to drink and eat at regular intervals, so reducing the risk of dehydration and lack of nutrition. Full details are available from firstname.lastname@example.org
Named as one of David Cameron’s official ‘Dementia Awareness Champions,’ Norrms McNamara was the inspiration behind the Purple Angel logo which is quickly becoming the international symbol for dementia awareness. He is also the man behind Dementia Awareness Day, held annually on 17 September.
Butterfly Lodge is run by Camelot Care, which also has homes in Wellington and Bridgwater. For further information see www.camelotcare.co.uk