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Playlist for Life

Music plays a central role in supporting residents to live well in many care homes, and is a significant feature in most well-being and activity programmes, ranging from informal sing-a-longs and choirs within a care home to visiting entertainers.

The value of utilising music in a more personalised way is now widely recognised as a valid non-pharmacological intervention, to ease or alleviate distress in residents living with dementia, without the associated side effects of powerful sedatives, antipsychotic medication or other mood-altering drugs (Banerjee, 2009; Mitchell and Agnelli, 2015).

Playlist for Life is a Scottish charity, founded in 2013 by writer and broadcaster Sally Magnusson www.playlistforlife.org.uk. Sally and her family cared for her mum Mamie, who lived with dementia. They recognised that familiar and well-loved family music had a positive and often soothing impact on Mamie, and wanted to know if music could be used in a similar way to support other people with dementia and their families.

Playlist for Life supports those caring for people with dementia to work with an individual and their loved ones to create a unique, personal playlist of favourite music. Crucially, the support also ensures that everyone who loves or cares for the person knows how to use the songs and tunes to have the most beneficial impact for that person living with dementia.

Avery Healthcare recognised the potential of using the soundtrack of a person’s life in this way to enhance the lives of residents and their families, which avoids the use of prescribed medication wherever possible. As part of this commitment, Heather Perkins, a member of the ReConnectR Dementia Support Team at Avery completed additional training with the charity to become an accredited Playlist for Life trainer. This enables her to train and support the care home teams to implement the Playlist for Life approach, to enhance the quality of life for residents in its Memory Care suites.

In common with other care home operators during the current pandemic, Avery took the decision to close all of their homes to families and visiting professionals as part of the contingency plan to protect residents. The Playlist for Life approach thus provided staff with an invaluable means of supporting residents with dementia, when the usual and established activities and opportunities for engagement in groups were not possible, and when loved ones could only connect via social media or telephone.

Recently, Billy, an Avery resident living with dementia, faced the distressing transition from hospital back to his care home after a period of illness. Staff at the hospital had reported that he was displaying extreme agitation, which was totally out of character. Working in partnership with Playlist for Life, the Avery home quickly liaised with the resident’s family to identify his favourite music, and have that soundtrack uploaded onto an MP3 player to be delivered to the care home. Its positive impact meant that Billy’s distress was eased, without the need for medication.

Highcliffe Billy listening to music intext

The COVID-19 pandemic and the associated social distancing requirements have inevitably affected the way that staff in care homes are able to receive training, prompting the use of technology in more innovative ways. All of Avery’s face-to-face training programmes are being reviewed and adapted to reflect this, and they have worked with the team at Playlist for Life to ensure that this valuable resource can continue to be implemented across all of its homes; all existing staff training materials and resources have been modified for delivery via on-line conferencing platforms. The family information package, once delivered as a face-to-face group session, has also been remodelled.

The Avery ReConnectR Dementia Team will ensure care home staff will receive further on-going coaching in this virtual way, increasing the pace of implementation, meaning more will be able to employ the Playlist for Life approach, to support more residents with dementia more quickly.

As the example of Billy has shown, it’s the soundtrack to a transformation, that places those living with dementia into a better place.


Banerjee, S. (2009) The use of antipsychotic medication for people with dementia: Time for action. London. Department of Health.

Mitchell G, Agnelli J. (2015) Non-pharmacological approaches to alleviate distress in dementia care. Nursing Standard 30, 38-44.

Article by Jo Crossland, Head of Dementia Care