Posted by: ayrshirehealth | March 23, 2015

Here I am, back for a while by @sallymag1 

Keeping us connected

My mother had dementia. Where memories goIn my book Where Memories Go: Why Dementia Changes Everything I describe how the songs she had gaily sung throughout her life began to play an ever bigger part in how we looked after her.

The songs she knew, and that her children also knew through lifelong immersion – everything from the Inkspots to the Sound of Music, the Hallelujah Chorus to the ‘Northern Lights of Old Aberdeen’ – gradually became not just an excuse for a party but a conscious device to keep us connected to her and her to herself.

Harmonies filled the room

When she was frightened in the bath, she could be calmed with ‘It’s a Lovely Day Tomorrow’. When she was downhearted and depressed, nothing produced a smile like ‘Ye cannae shove your granny off a bus’. Sally & MumSome of the trickiest toileting moments could be eased by a swift elision into ‘How do you solve a problem like Maria?’ When she lay frail and almost motionless in her final weeks, she could still whisper a husky correction to the words of some ragged ditty from her children.

Singing gave her the ability to produce words in the right order again, which made her feel exquisitely good. Singing allowed her harmonies to fill the room with pleasure for other people, which made her feel great. Singing seemed to bypass the damaged parts of her brain and made her feel, for those few moments and quite a while afterwards, herself again.

You thought you’d lost me

Light at road endWith the help of music I found that even when her dementia was advanced, my mother could still come back, as if to shout, ‘Here I am. You thought you had lost me, but here I am, back for a while’; that even in the darkest hollows at the end of the dementia road it was sometimes possible to switch on a light.

After she died in April 2012 I was haunted by the sense that we had been on to something with music and that others should know about it.

A puzzling question

But how would it work in families where music was not as naturally engrained as it had been in ours? How would it work in care homes, where visiting musicians often bring communal pleasure to a dreary afternoon but cannot possibly be on hand when a frightening bath is due or amid the bleak agitations of the night? How would it work in a hospital, where nurses are far too busy to go shoving anyone’s granny off a bus? How do you ever scale this idea up?

I puzzled over that question in the months after my mother’s death, until one day I heard about an American organisation that was advocating personal music on iPods for people with dementia. And I thought, Of course.  Play list for LifeThat’s how you scale it up, that’s how you give thousands of people access to the music that, if my mother and a growing number of Americans were anything to go by, is just waiting to make them feel better.

And that’s when I decided to start the charity Playlist for Life, to do the same in the UK.

Person-centred care in action

Take a look at our website to see and read about the wonderful transformations we have seen since beginning our work – not just in people with dementia themselves but in the folk who love them and are thrilled to have a means of bringing that loved one back for a while, and in the hospital and care home staff who are happier in their work when they can make the people they are caring for happy. Personal music is the ultimate in person-centred care.

Harry and MargaretHave a look at the video on the home page about Harry and Margaret, the very first couple we worked with. I defy you not to be moved.

We are working with families and care homes up and down the UK now and, increasingly, with staff in the NHS. A majority of Scottish NHS boards have come to us for training to bring this intervention to their patients, and we recently trained an NHS Trust in England.

Here’s a message from the Queen’s Medical Centre at Nottingham NHS Trust, who’ve just started work with offering a playlist for life intervention to people with dementia in their acute wards.

We had the privilege of using personalised music with our first patient last week. The gentleman was uncommunicative, made no eye contact and had been severely agitated for weeks. His family said he wasn’t really into music but they gave us the names of songs that they thought would bring back memories for him. When his daughter put the headphones on his ears and the music played, his family commented on how his face relaxed. musical notesThe gentleman tapped his feet a couple of times and commented ‘nice music’.

“However, I don’t think we or his family could have predicted what happened next. Ten minutes after listening to the music, we approached him and asked him if he liked the music. He sat forward and made eye contact and had a short but coherent two-way conversation. His family said ‘that is the first two way conversation he has had in weeks’.

His wife said afterwards that when she watches him listening to the music that ‘he sometimes smiles as if he is remembering a time when we listened to the songs together’.

I’m delighted to hear that NHS Ayrshire and Arran is interested in using personalised music for people with dementia with the help of Playlist for Life, the charity I founded in 2013, and look forward to supporting the staff with training and further support.

This week’s blog was by @sallymag1 (Sally Magnusson), Broadcaster, writer, founder and Chair of Playlist for Life:

Twitter: @PlaylistForLife






  1. What a wonderful idea Sally,you will bring a wee bit of memory to a lot of people,so kind of you,well done.

  2. Reblogged this on Chrys Muirhead .

  3. Glad to read this post about the difference that music and singing can make in the care of people with dementia. The Playlist for Life sounds a very positive project, a way of engaging and keeping the lines of communication open. I’d also like to see the same in general mental health and psychiatric settings, in acute wards, open and secure.

    I recently attended the second Scottish Music and Health Network event in Edinburgh, the afternoon session which had various presentations on how music improved health, communication and quality of life:

    I had previously attended their first conference in 2014 and been inspired. My family are all musicians, including my 2 younger sisters, 3 sons and me. My oldest son, 38, is leaving his job in the oil industry this year to study a Masters in Music Therapy at Queen Margaret’s University.

    The Music in Hospitals charity whose patron is Sally Magnusson does some great work, taking live music into wards:

    Classical musicians sharing their expertise and musicality. I know they have been in some of the wards at Stratheden Hospital, Fife, near where I live. I’d also like to see them in the acute psychiatric wards. Music, listening and playing, can bring healing and is a very therapeutic process, in my experience and that of my family.

  4. I watched Margaret and Harry, how moving and what a great idea.

  5. Wow! sitting at my desk at work reading this and it moved me to tears and it reminds me of my Grandmother who had a song for every occassion. music is a great way of taking anyone back to a certain time or place or reminding them a special moment in life. I cant believe no one has ever thought of this before. Well done Sally

  6. our EMH wards in NHS A&A either have ,or are in the process of starting developing playlists on ipods for everyone in our wards who has a diagnosis of dementia.The pleasure music gives to everyone invloved, from the person, relatives and staff is immeasurable

  7. Individual music therapy – recommended at every training session I do and when I can Harry and Margaret played. Great DVD.

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