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‘Life Soundtracks’ Can Help Soothe Frustrating Dementia Symptoms


Dementia is one of the most difficult diagnoses for both the patient and his or her family. It’s heartbreaking to watch someone you love fade away and feel helpless, but there is a simple act that promises to help ease their frustrating symptoms — and it’s something we all love.  

Music therapy for dementia patients is nothing new, but a charity in Glasgow, Scotland, has hit on something more specific. Instead of focusing on music that is generally uplifting, they recommend creating a playlist of songs that your family member actually listened to throughout their lives. 

Playlist for Life was founded by Sally Magnusson who stumbled upon the idea after noticing the effect of nostalgic music on her mother suffering from dementia. Andy Lowndes, deputy chair of the organization, told Reuters Health, “Although her mother had almost lost the ability to use words, whenever Sally would sing the soundtrack of her life, her mother would still be able to sing the song from start to finish and harmonize beautifully. Fragments of memories were connected to those personally meaningful songs.” 

The organization employs music detectives who help families pin down their own playlist based on a number of factors surrounding those with dementia. This can include their age, where they grew up, what kind of traditions their family followed, and many others. For instance, you would include traditional hymns for someone who spent their youth attending a certain denominational church. The more specific you can get, the better.  

The charity’s website also offers a few tips for anyone wanting to make a “life playlist” for their loved ones:

  1. Find songs that were popular when the person was between the ages of 10 and 30. This is the time when we create the most long-lasting memories. 
  2. Look for “inheritance” tracks from their childhood memories that are connected to friendships, family, or romantic relationships.
  3. Add “identity” tracks, like church hymnals, school pride songs, or other music attached to the “tribes” they grew up in. 

They also warn to be on the look out for red flags that might trigger negative memories, something you definitely want to avoid. To get started, you can find several playlists broken down by genre, geographical location, era, and more on the charity’s Spotify profile

And it’s not just those who are already dealing with dementia that can benefit from these playlists — making one for yourself can help you keep your memories sharp as you age, too. 

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