MindHarp®: One of Your 5-a-day

What would life be - without a song or a dance, what are we

A significant report, published by the National Commission on Dementia and Music, explores in detail the situation we are currently facing. The report What would life be – without a song or a dance, what are we? published in January 2018 was written and compiled by the ILC-UK (International Longevity Centre UK). The following points summarise some of the key findings of the report.

The Context:

  • 850,000 people are living with dementia in the UK at present. This is set to rise to 1 million in 2025
  • The annual cost of dementia to the nation is £26.3bn which is a higher health and social care cost than cancer, stroke and chronic heart disease combined
  • If we could delay the onset of dementia by 5 years we could save £100bn between 2020 and 2035


  • 80% of people living in homes with symptoms of dementia experience agitation, depression, apathy, anxiety and sometimes aggression
  • These symptoms are often placed under the umbrella term BPSD (Behavioural, Psychological Symptoms of Dementia)

Music and Dementia

  • It is estimated that only 5% of care homes provide good quality arts and music provision
  • This means that approximately 320,000 people with dementia in residential settings do not have access to meaningful arts provision. Given that 2/3 of people with dementia live in the community, there are hundreds of thousands of people who are unlikely to be receiving music-based interventions

Why Music Matters – the Known Benefits

  • Firstly, there are no really definitive randomised control trials (RCTs) and the report suggests there should be more and better quality studies undertaken. Despite this, the experiential and anecdotal evidence that music has a powerful and positive effect is overwhelming. There are many published studies with compelling evidence to support and suggest the use of music interventions has a direct effect on the psycho-social well-being of people living with dementia
  • Musical memory is somewhat distinct from other memory systems
  • There is less cortical atrophy in areas associated with musical memory
  • Even people badly affected by dementia can enjoy and understand music
  • There is mounting scientific evidence to suggest that musical memories engage many parts of the brain
  • Others have suggested music has many dimensions (auditory, visual, verbal, expressive, emotional), engaging many systems and faculties
  • Music-based therapy interventions clearly help minimise BPSD
  • Music facilitates and increases social interaction – it helps ‘flow’. It undoubtedly stimulates real, storytelling, singing and communications
  • Just as importantly, the use of music in dementia care actually improves the quality of care-giving as it impacts positively on the carers themselves. It facilitates communications between care-giver and care-receiver