I was immensely proud to represent Live Better With last week at the judging day for the National Dementia Care Awards 2019.  Our own brand Music Player & Digital Radio has been shortlisted in the category: ‘Outstanding Dementia Care Resource’. The finalists for the 2019 Awards were announced a few weeks ago and on 11th October 2019 we were all called to the Hilton Metropole Hotel in London for the judging day. As my colleague, Adam Vaughan – who was responsible for designing and manufacturing the Music Player & Digital Radio – was on holiday, it was left to me to present evidence to the judges about how the unique flexible features of the product help to enable people living with dementia to have greater access to the music of their choice long into their dementia journeys. 

Our case was hugely strengthened by my companion presenters on the day: David Pooley, who is living with dementia, and his wife and carer, Betty. It isn’t long since David was diagnosed with dementia and his condition is mild. However, with an eye to the future, David and Betty have invested in a Music Player & Digital Radio, recognising the potential benefits its adaptable controls will have as David’s cognitive abilities change over time. 

David and Betty

“Already the Music Player & Digital Radio has been a benefit” says Betty. She has put together for David a personal playlist of his favourite music and David is able to listen to this music whenever he wants to, without the need for a computer or a more complex device that he might struggle to operate. The availability of music selected to match his personal taste allows for reflective quiet moments, that benefit him enormously and give him respite from his otherwise busy life. 

David and Betty did an excellent job of supporting me on the judging day, illustrating key points that I made with their own experience of using the Music Player & Digital Radio and explaining their personal challenges with assimilating the dementia diagnosis and adapting to a future that will be far different from the life they had anticipated. 

We were keen to elucidate how the Music Player & Digital Radio could be used as a ‘resource’. Clearly the device has benefits for individuals living with dementia in their own homes and in care homes. Family carers have reported lovely stories to us at Live Better With of how the creation of a personal playlist for their relative has been life-changing in helping to reduce agitation, encourage reminiscence, provide opportunities for shared appreciation of favourite genres and significant eras in a person’s life, and prompt the enjoyment of spontaneous singing sessions. 

Beyond the individual experiences, we described ways in which the Music Player & Digital Radio could be used in care and community settings and as a research tool. 

We spoke about our partnership with the Fremantle Trust, a charity that runs care homes. Fremantle Trust has invested in a bulk supply of Music Player & Digital Radios to use in their care homes and has embarked on an initiative to create personal playlists for their residents, using the Music Players to make these playlists accessible and available to their residents whenever they would like to listen to them and/or at times of agitation and distress, when a calming influence is needed.

The Music Player lends itself for use as a resource in a care home; music is stored on a removable usb drive, therefore the personal playlists of each resident can be created on their own usb and inserted into the Music Player at the time they wish to listen to the music, and then removed in readiness for someone else to use the device.   

Freemantle Trust has evaluated the initiative and the results will be published in the Journal of Dementia Care very soon. 

We also talked to the judging panel about the use of the Music Players in research. David and Betty were well placed to contribute to our pitch on this subject. 

David has been participating in a research study at University of Surrey, led by David Frohlich and Sarah Campbell: ‘Sentimental Audio Memories’. For this study, lead researcher Sarah has been meeting with people living with dementia to gather data about memories and significant life events, from which she is creating personal soundtracks which includes everyday sounds, such as sounds of nature eg birdsong, crickets, bees, the sea; transport sounds, such as trains, aircraft; sounds of childhood, eg school bell, ice cream van, playground; as well as songs and music, new broadcasts, sports commentaries – anything that has personal meaning to the individual concerned can be included. 

“Who would have known that the sound we were listening to was that of a Hastings aircraft?” said Betty. “David knew. That is one of his most significant memories. And Sarah played him the sound of children playing, to which David had immediately responded, ‘That reminds me of Greenwich Park’. It’s amazing, we now have all these sounds on a memory stick, and we sit together and listen to it and talk about the sounds and what they mean. And by being part of this study, we are contributing to research into how music and sounds can help people like David”.

All of this was told to the judges ….. so we shall see! The results will be announced at the UK Dementia Congress dinner on 7th November 2019 in Doncaster. Adam and I will be there keeping our fingers crossed for a positive outcome. But even if we do not win – there are some excellent entries in this category – we are delighted and proud to have been shortlisted. 

Barbara Stephens, Caregiver-in-Chief


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