Music Therapy and Dementia Care in the 21st Century

orchestral17:40 Thursday 3rd September 2015
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

CHRIS MANN: A major conference is being held in Cambridge this weekend, examining how music therapy can help people with dementia. It’s taking place at Anglia Ruskin University. Let’s find out more now and speak to Professor Helen Odell-Miller, who is the Head of Music Therapy at Anglia Ruskin. Hello
HELEN ODELL-MILLER: Hello. Hello Chris.
CHRIS MANN: Welcome to the programme. How can music therapy help people with dementia?
HELEN ODELL-MILLER: For people with dementia, music therapy can help particularly reduce their agitation. People very often feel confused. They can’t remember things, and actually active music making, singing, finding a way of communicating with people, can help calm them, and also lift their spirits and improve well being.
CHRIS MANN: OK. As it does for all of us I suppose.
HELEN ODELL-MILLER: Yes. Sure. Absolutely.
CHRIS MANN: Whatever state we’re in. (THEY LAUGH) Can people remember music better than other things, when they have dementia?
HELEN ODELL-MILLER: Quite often. So with a little trigger like the beginning line of a song, someone who hasn’t been able to hold a clear conversation can often break into song and sing a whole song through, all the words correct. And that can sometimes lead them to have a discussion with their loved ones afterwards, in a way that hadn’t previously been possible. It’s often only in the moment that these things happen, but we’ve researched and found now internationally that there are some trends arising, and we’ve got some data to show.
CHRIS MANN: What kind of music works the best with people?

HELEN ODELL-MILLER: Well that’s difficult. The music that works best for people is the music that they like, and that they respond to, and that they can actually engage with. So a music therapist is trained to find that music. Every time they see someone, they find out the music that will actually help that person.
CHRIS MANN: So not necessarily some relaxing Stravinsky. Could be rap or whatever.
HELEN ODELL-MILLER: Yes. Not really. There are certain trends. Musicologists have done research to show if you have a certain beat and a certain key, a major key is often not so sad as a minor key, things like that. But in terms of actual genre, types of music, it’s usually what someone recognises, and what they have a good memory about.
CHRIS MANN: So this conference is taking place at Anglia Ruskin. What’s the point of it?
HELEN ODELL-MILLER: Yes. At Anglia Ruskin University we have a big training course for music therapists. And the point of it is for people coming from around the world who are specialists in this, and it’s to work with each other, to get more knowledge sharing. But also we’ve got people coming from residential homes, carers, people who want to find out more about music therapy because they think that it would help for someone they know with dementia.
CHRIS MANN: Presumably not just dementia that music can be a good therapy for. It helps me. (LAUGHS)
HELEN ODELL-MILLER: Yes. It helps everybody. In our view, there are very few people who it can’t help. It can help people with depression. We’ve got research to show that people’s mood can be helped through music therapy if they’re depressed for example.
CHRIS MANN: Did you start off as an expert in therapy and move into music? Or the other way round?
HELEN ODELL-MILLER: The other way round. So I trained as a musician.
HELEN ODELL-MILLER: And I always wanted to use my music to connect with people, to communicate. I didn’t want to do something ..
CHRIS MANN: Are there particular tones that are really good for people? Keys?
HELEN ODELL-MILLER: Keys? Major keys. Yes. Minor keys often are thought to be more sad, but it does actually depend on the circumstance, the interpretation, the person’s relationship really with the music therapist and with the music.
CHRIS MANN: Well thank you for talking to us about it, and previewing your conference over the weekend. Music’s a bit of a theme for us today. We’re talking movies and themes. What’s your favourite film?
HELEN ODELL-MILLER: Well I’ve got several. But I’m only allowed one I’ve been told.
CHRIS MANN: You are.
HELEN ODELL-MILLER: I’m choosing Slding Doors for now.
CHRIS MANN: Ah. That brilliant film. John Hannah. Gwyneth Paltrow. Your other film would have been …?
HELEN ODELL-MILLER: The Sound of Music.
CHRIS MANN: Ah. You and Emma together.
CHRIS MANN: Because … ?
CHRIS MANN: It’s a wonderful song.
HELEN ODELL-MILLER: It’s wonderful songs that actually reach people. There’s a lot of emotional impact of that music in the film. If you played the film without the music I don’t thing there’s be such ..
CHRIS MANN: There wouldn’t be a point. Helen, thank you so much for joining us, and good luck for the weekend. That’s Professor Helen Odell-Miller from Anglia Ruskin University.
HELEN ODELL-MILLER: Thank you very much.