How music therapy can tackle dementia crisis

Published: 2 September 2015 at 09:00

Helen Odell-Miller

Anglia Ruskin to host first UK conference examining the growing problem

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The first international conference to be held in the UK examining how music therapy can help people with dementia is taking place at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge this weekend (4-6 September).

The number of people living with dementia is increasing; approximately 44.4 million people worldwide were reported to be living with dementia in 2013 and this is estimated to rise to 135.5 million in 2050. 

This means there will be a significant rise in demand for non-verbal therapies and care approaches.  Music therapy has been recommended as a psychosocial intervention in the UK National Dementia Strategy and recent research shows that music therapy can reduce agitation and reduce the use of medication.

Presentations and workshops at the conference will focus on multidisciplinary work with other care workers and contributions from people with dementia.  The conference will feature a balance between theory, clinical practice, research and the impact of music therapy.

Helen Odell-Miller, Professor of Music Therapy at Anglia Ruskin University and chair of the conference, said: "The Alzheimer’s Society forecasts that by 2025 there will be one million people living with dementia here in the UK, but the British Association for Music Therapy reports that only 132 music therapists are registered as working with elderly people.

"This is not owing to a shortage of music therapists, but because there is a shortage of funded posts both in the public and private sector.

"When you look at these figures, it is clearly not yet possible for music therapists to reach everyone living with dementia, but there is growing evidence to support its relevance to their care.

"This conference will highlight some of the most innovative research being carried out worldwide into this specialist but important area, and also discuss ways of sharing skills amongst a range of professionals responsible for looking after people with dementia, to help tackle this growing problem."

Anglia Ruskin – the first UK university to provide MA Music Therapy training and home to a world-leading centre for music therapy research – is organising the conference in collaboration with Methodist Homes (MHA), a major provider of care for older people and employer of music therapists in the UK, and The British Association for Music Therapy.

There will be over 40 presentations from music therapists from all over the world, including keynotes from international leaders in the field.

Professor Hanne Mette Ridder from Denmark will cover new research linking the role of a professional music therapist to that of 'the singing nurse', drawing upon the power of interactive music to help with everyday tasks for people with dementia.

Dr David Aldridge is author of a leading book on music therapy and dementia, and will discuss the history of how music therapy research has expanded over the last few decades.

Orii McDermott and Ming Hsu will discuss recently published research showing how music therapy benefits people with dementia and their carers, and how it can change environments.

To download the full conference programme, including details of all workshops and presentations, please click here.