Changing the conversation about health

Beyond Pills Campaign: How music can be a vital tool for dementia patients and their carers over the festive period

In April this year, Music for Dementia and UK Music released the Power of Music report, which examined how music can help communities come together, potentially easing isolation and loneliness, and also exploring the impact melody can have on dementia patients.

Here, for The College of Medicine, Campaign Director at Music for Dementia, Grace Meadows, looks at how seasonal music could help people with dementia and those who care for them in the coming weeks…

Christmas songs and carols can help soothe and calm patients with dementia, says Campaign Director at Music for Dementia, Grace Meadows (Image: Music for Dementia)

Mood Changer

Christmas is very much a time we associate with music.  It can be a very emotive time of year; for many a joyful and celebratory time of year where music can bring us all together and for others, a somewhat challenging time that doesn’t always hold happy memories. 

Music can not only help us be with those emotions, but also help us manage those emotions and associated behaviours. 

  • It can help when someone is feeling overwhelmed or overstimulated; calming, soothing, familiar music and sounds can settle someone, putting them at ease. 
  • It can help to focus someone; if they’re distracted or unable to concentrate, music can be a way to focus attention. A singalong to familiar carols or Christmas songs can often help to create connection in the here and now. 
  • If someone is agitated or repeating questions, listening to or singing along to calming Christmas carols and songs can help reduce their anxiety and help move someone on from repeating the same question. 
  • If Christmas is a difficult time of year, it could be that Christmas music only reinforces that. Opt instead for a personalised playlist that reflects music that holds meaning for that person and isn’t associated with the festive season.
Connection: A festive playlist can help bring families together (Image: Music for Dementia)

Making New Memories

Music can be a way of bringing family and friends together at Christmas to make memories. It could be attending a Christmas carol concert together, creating a play list of Christmas songs and carols that hold personal meaning and sharing it with them, impromptu singalongs to carols or creating your own version of a carol concert or Christmas karaoke.

There’s also m4d Radio available – an online station playing free and uninterrupted era-specific music – to tune into 24/7 and listen together.  Whichever way you use music, you’re creating memories with music that will be remembered by family and friends for Christmases to come. 

Physically connecting 

Christmas is about being together but sometimes, when someone has dementia, it can be difficult. Using music to move – be that dancing, chair dancing or simply giving an affectionate touch – can help lighten the mood, create a festive atmosphere, provide a distraction, help focus someone and express a way of being together physically that comforts, reassures and creates connections in the here and now. 

Campaign Director at Music for Dementia, Grace Meadows


Creating conversation 

Use music to create conversations and stories. It might be a conversation about nativity plays from yesteryear, carol singing with friends, Christmas parties that have gone down in history or family Christmas adventures – the stories will have a musical connection. Listening, singing and dancing to music enables musical conversations to happen, enabling people to share and express feelings and emotions beyond words. 

Exercise and movement

Christmas parties are always remembered for the dancing! You can dance your way through the decades, revisiting musical hits from Christmas over the years and reminding you of Christmases gone by. Moving and dancing to music can provide a helpful distraction, recentre or focus someone who’s overwhelmed or agitated.

A dementia patient who appears withdrawn might respond to music that is livelier, says Music for Dementia (Image: Music for Dementia)

The physical contact with dancing can reassure and sooth, as well as stimulate and invigorate to create a different mood or atmosphere. It can help to provide meaning or purpose to movement for someone who is wandering and unsettled. Choose music that means something to the person to help transform how they’re feeling in their bodies.

For example, if they’re unsettled and agitated, moving or dancing gently to a slow and calming carol could sooth, calm and focus. A more upbeat and lively Christmas song could stimulate and encourage interaction with someone who appears withdrawn, as is it encourages movement and an increase in endorphins. 

To find out more about the work Music for Dementia does, visit