Playlists offer a way of musically capturing all the songs or pieces of music that make up the soundtrack to your life.
Your playlist is unique to you and can help express your identity and history through music. When making a playlist for someone else, particularly those who are no longer able to communicate using words, it enables you to tap into who they are, their likes and dislikes, memories and most importantly, who they are as a person
A personalised playlist can provide a source of comfort and enjoyment for individuals and helps to ensure that music-listening is person-centred. In thinking about designing playlists for people living with dementia, evidence suggests that there is a ‘memory bump’ for music. It appears that people living with dementia retain clearest memories for music they enjoyed and heard between roughly the ages of 10 and 30.
Whether you’re creating a playlist for someone with or without language, it’s important to talk to them about their music and whether they would like to make a playlist with you. Help them to be part of their musical soundtrack by involving them from the very beginning. They may not be able to answer you in sentences or with words, but they might nod, smile or shake their head. Perhaps hum a phrase or two from a song to help get your musical conversation started.
If you have someone in mind to create a playlist for, here are six simple steps to get you started.
- Create a list of potential songs based on who the person is – You are looking for music that is meaningful to the person you are making a playlist for. You can ask the person or their family members about favourite tunes or you can start looking for clues. How old is the person? Where did they come from? Where did they live? What was their job? Did they have children? Is there music associated with any of the things you know about the person?
- Look more widely for clues – Are there old photos showing the person at a musical event or trigger ideas about what their musical likes might be e.g. on the football terraces or at a Sunday School picnic? Does the person have a record or CD collection at home or hidden in the attic? Are there any programmes or ticket stubs in a special drawer?
- Track down fragments of songs – There are lots of great apps and websites to help you identify songs that you can’t remember the name of. You can also type any lyrics you remember directly into Google, or other search engines, using quotation marks around your search term.
- Test our the playlist with the person – Make sure the room is calm and comfortable. You will need to have access to the internet to play the music on your phone or laptop to the person you are making the playlist for. You may wish to use a journal to help you record what happens. As each song plays, take time to really focus on them and look for any reaction or response. This might be eyes opening or moving around, fingers or toes tapping, a change in facial expression. They might become more alert or speak. They might become more relaxed or more responsive. Put any song the person responds to onto the playlist, you are making the playlist for, if you are streaming music.
- Watch out for red flag songs – music is powerful. It can transport people to another time or place. That is a great gift, but you do not want to take someone back to a bad place. Tears are not always negative, but if someone becomes very agitated or distressed in response to a certain song, you should stop the session and discard that music. Remember to keep a note of red flag songs so that they are not played again. You should pause the session and support the person through their experience. Give them time to process and express their feelings but also help them to move on. Make a note of the song as a potential red flag song and one to be used with caution or one to potentially discard.
- Headphone Hygiene – If using headphones, we would encourage everyone to have their own set. We would recommend the use of over-ear, padded, wipeable headphones as they can be easily cleaned with an antiseptic wipe before and after a session. There are lots of headphones available and we would advise people to try a few pairs to get the best comfort, lightness and fit.
Find out more about Music4Dementia2020