Music and Self-Identity in Dementia Care

y Rosie Mead, CEO – Musica Music and Wellbeing CIC (

During this current period, it’s even more imperative that we consider relationship-centred care and explore ways that we can connect more with the individual(s) we care for in order to reduce loneliness and isolation. I’m asking us to consider music as a tool to do this; as I’ll explain it’s a fantastic way to connect, and gain a deeper understanding of those you care for.

Music is often seen as an integral part of our self identity, and this continues into later life. Music is closely linked with personal memories, and it is thought that we remember most the music from our teenage years and early twenties; this is seen as our reminiscence ‘peak’. As we grow older it is important for us to maintain our identity and personhood; in this respect music can ‘be understood as a transformer and metaphor in people’s lives that makes a significant con- tribution to the quality of life.’ (Hays & Minichello, 2005: 263).

Within a care environment many people feel that they have lost the opportunity to be an individual. Their daily routine may be decided for them, when they eat, what they eat, when they have a bath etc. This can lead to a loss of identity. Moving to a care home may mean that friendships outside of it are broken, and the relation- ships in a person’s life may change. The relationships we sustain are part of our identities, and the breaking down of these can contribute to a loss of identity.

Music is a way of presenting our identities. Everyone has favourite songs and songs that have been meaningful throughout their lives, such as wedding song, songs you listened to in teenage years, and songs that remind you of certain people. Music is powerful in this way, it can jog memories, and ignite a sense of self- worth. It is part of who we are and our life experience.

Music is a huge part of my own life, not just as a professional musician, but as a music listener, and as a teenager it feels it played an even bigger role for me. I used music as a vehicle for self-expression, constructing my identity through the bands I listened to. Even now when I hear the songs I used to listen to back then I’m reminded of the feelings that this music listening afforded for me.

The feeling that came about from this music listening is something that is important to consider when using music in dementia care. Often we see people living with dementia remembering long lost memories due to listening to particular pieces of familiar music; however, even if the person is unable to communicate this memory, we may find that the feeling of this memory still remains. For example, listening to the piece of music played at our first wedding dance might still bring back the same feelings feeling of love, excitement, joy even if the person is unable to explain that they are feeling this way because the piece was played at their wedding,

I’m a huge fan of David Sheard’s, and his ethos that feelings matter most. I truly believe this too, and by using meaningful music delivered at an individual level connecting with the individual’s life history, we can help to connect people living with dementia with their emotions, with their feelings, with themselves.

To find out more about the ways that music can provide benefit in dementia care visit our free introduction to music in dementia care

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