Music connects people with dementia even in the remotest of areas

Two years on and the Music for Dementia 2020 team are delighted to hear that the training provided by Music as Therapy International with the Activity Coordinators at the Abbeyfield House in Ballachulish is still having a tremendous impact on their dementia residents, carers and relatives. 

Music as Therapy International
Jesse – during a group session- Photograph © Music as Therapy International

With over twenty years of experience as a music therapist, Clare Reynolds (who is a member of Music as Therapy International’s Advisory Panel) first visited this wonderful care home, situated in the Scottish Highlands, over two years ago. In discussion with Bev and Jesse, the Activity Coordinators, the aim was for Clare to train them to use some simple music therapy techniques and musical activities to help them and the wider care team engage their residents living with dementia.

Alongside the support and encouragement of the Care Home Manager – Louise Duffy, Clare provided the team with the resources and professional support to equip them with the skills and confidence to enable them to facilitate their own music sessions with their residents every week.

This project took place over a period of six weeks in 2017 (the typical format for a Music as Therapy International Introductory Training Project) and Clare checked back in, six months later with a half-day Follow-Up Visit. The charity prioritises supporting its local partners, and offers both Follow-Up and Support Visits to encourage the sustainability of its projects – at Abbeyfield, checking back in with Bev and Jesse allowed Clare to celebrate their successes as well as work through challenges they might have faced.

Music can have a wonderful calming impact

“Music is a powerful tool which, when used in a meaningful way, can offer people with dementia a way of connecting and communicating with others” Clare said. “The training offered through Music as Therapy International, allows carers to develop simple musical skills alongside an understanding of what they are doing and importantly why they are doing it. It doesn’t matter if you can’t play an instrument or don’t believe you can sing; it’s about taking the time out of your busy day to sit with an individual or a group of residents and really think about what music they may like to hear and interact with. You can simply sing a song, hum a tune or listen to some recorded music; as long as you are present, staying in the moment with those individuals, matching and responding to their moods – music can have a wonderful calming impact on everyone involved.”


One to one session with Bev – Photograph © Music as Therapy International

Staying connected and cherishing the precious moments

We are delighted to report that Bev and Jesse now run regular music sessions with their residents, which has helped with the often-distressing side-effects of dementia, such as anxiety, agitation, depression and isolation.  Bev said “I don’t expect everyone to be engaged all the time in the session but at some point during the session every resident will respond in some way, whether it is singing, or playing a small percussion instrument or tapping his/her foot. To see the residents relaxed and content is so wonderful and they really get so much out of the music group. It may be the only connection they can share with somebody during that day.”


Group session – Photograph © Music as Therapy International

Knowing when to pause the tea trolley

Bev mentioned that she couldn’t run these sessions without the support of all the carers and managers. “They are key to making our musical sessions successful. It can be a simple logistics thing, such as getting the residents into the room on time or holding back the tea trolley if they can see that the session is still taking place. The key is sitting with and enjoying the music with the residents and simply understanding the power that music has in dementia care.”

A sustainable approach

What is so inspiring about this story is the sustainability of the approach developed by Music as Therapy International. What started out as a pilot project has now enabled the care team to use simple music therapy techniques and musical activities daily, with confidence. By providing the team with resources and professional support this project has made not only a sustainable but meaningful and lasting change to the care home and its residents, long after the music therapists have left.

We hope that music continues to have a positive impact on those residents who are living as well as they can with dementia.

To everyone involved you are all superstars, keep up the amazing work!


If you would like to find out more about how Music as Therapy International can help your organisation please contact info@musicastherapy.org

To find out more about Abbeyfield House in Ballachulish please visit their website – www.abbeyfield.com

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