BBC Music website offers dementia lifeline

BBC Music website offers dementia lifeline

  • 28 September 2018
  • comments
Image copyright BBC/PA/Getty Images

Music's ability to soothe the symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer's has been known for years.

Now, a new BBC website aims to help by connecting dementia patients with the songs they love.

Eventually, it's hoped the site will build a database of music that's effective at triggering memories.

"Music can have such a powerful effect," said Snow Patrol star Gary Lightbody, whose father suffers from dementia.

"It fires all sorts of things in the brain much more immediately than anything else can, whether it be pictures or old home movies or conversations.

"Music can somehow take you to a place of your youth, or an important part of your life you may not otherwise have access to."

Beyond that, music therapy has been shown to alleviate depression, anxiety, hallucinations and mobility problems in patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionHow music therapy can help the brain

Yet research shows only 5% of care homes in the UK provide good quality music programmes.

That equates to "30 seconds per week per person with dementia", according to research from the International Longevity Centre.

That's one of the reasons why the charity Playlist for Life has collaborated with the BBC on the Music Memories website.

The site - which launched on Friday as part of BBC Music Day - allows people to browse more than 1,800 songs, classical works and TV theme tunes from the last 100 years, creating a playlist of personally meaningful music.

Those playlists can then be shared - along with some basic information about the user's age, gender and place of birth - allowing carers to identify songs that could help others with a similar background.

Image caption TV themes, such as The Wombles, can have just as powerful an effect on memory as hit songs

"The example we often give is that there's a famous Scottish lullaby called Ally Bally Bee," said Sarah Metcalfe from Playlist for Life.

"Most people in Glasgow have it on their playlist because it takes them back to their mum singing to them and feeling safe and loved.

"But if you're Glaswegian and you end up in a care home in Reading, the chances are nobody knows Ally Bally Bee. They've never even heard of it.

"And if we can begin to connect up what people like in different parts of the country, we can actually begin to help reach people."

Other BBC Music Day highlights

  • Kylie Minogue's railway announcements are being played at major stations around the UK, while Amy Macdonald has performed at Glasgow Central station and Blossoms played at Manchester Piccadilly
  • Jarvis Cocker and Happy Mondays star Bez took part in a special edition of Bargain Hunt on BBC One
  • Radio 4's Woman's Hour has announced its Women in Music Power List
  • The Wombats will customise one of their hits for pre-schoolers on CBBC at 17:00, while George Ezra will read a bedtime story on the channel at 18:50
  • Live coverage of the day's events

'Memory bump'

A psychological phenomenon known as the "memory bump" means the music we hear between the ages of 10 and 30, when we become independent, carries more emotional resonance than any other.

"So if you've got a relative with dementia, even if they can't communicate with you any more, you can think back to when they would have been 10 to 30 years old, and use that as a key to unlock the kinds of music they might really enjoy, and it might have a lot of benefits for them," said Sally Bowell from the International Longevity Centre.

"The science checks out," Lightbody told the BBC.

"The songs of my dad's youth would be from the '50s, and when something comes on from that period he perks up a hell of a lot.

"You put on some Frank Sinatra and he loves it."