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Songs from our past have an almost magical ability to take us back in time, stirring long forgotten memories and emotions.  People with dementia respond in exactly the same way. In fact, there’s also growing evidence that creating a personal playlist for someone with dementia could have a significant impact on their mood, awareness, identity and ability to think.

But how do you do it? Here’s a few ideas to get you started:

What should I include?
This is where the fun starts! Research suggests that the most potent period for musical memories is from the mid-teens to mid-twenties, so this could be a good place to begin. Work out which years this would include for your loved one, then make a long list of popular songs from that time (use Google to find them).

Be selective
Don’t use whole albums even if you know that your loved one was a fan of the artist. A few particularly meaningful songs by Sinatra or Elvis are more impactful than several albums.

Not sure you’ve got it right?
Play snippets of the songs you’ve selected to the person with dementia and watch their reaction. If it makes them smile, start singing or tap their feet, you’re on the right track.

Vary it
Include a mix of calm, soothing music to help relax and unwind, and more upbeat tunes to help motivate and stimulate.

Don’t like headphones?
Some people with dementia find headphones uncomfortable and try to take them off. You could upload their personalized playlist to our new Unforgettable Music Player & Digital Radio. See below!

What songs take you back in time?

We all have a song that instantly transports us back in time so why not spend some time creating your own playlist too? The Unforgettable team share some of their most memorable songs to get you thinking….

Where Do You Go To My Lovely? by Peter Sarstead. It was the first record I bought and I was especially excited when my best friend’s very cool older sister asked to borrow it!”

Don’t You Want Me by the Human League. It transports me back to my Saturday job on the wool counter at Littlewoods. The memory is so vivid I can almost smell the 4-ply nylon/acrylic mix wool!”

I’m Still Waiting by Diana Ross. I was 12 and this was the first single I ever bought as a 45rpm record!”

San Dimas High School Football Rules by The Ataris. Takes me back to when I was 17 and had just passed my driving test.”

Step On by the Happy Mondays. Ah those carefree university days!”

I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing by Aerosmith. Reminds me of my first boyfriend!”

Hounds of Love by The Futureheads. Instantly takes me back to my university halls of residence, stirring memories of lazy Sundays watching the Hollyoaks omnibus.”

September by Earth Wind and Fire. It’s one of my Mum and Dads favourite songs so it was always on at any social gathering!”

What’s My Age Again? by Blink 182. I was 12 years old on holiday at the beach in Italy. Me, my sister and 4 cousins all had to share one Walkman, and this was the only GOOD tape we had! When everyone else was having a siesta, I would listen to this album whilst playing my Gameboy on the balcony.”

More musical services for people with dementia:

BBC Music Memories is a free new music service which aims to help people with dementia reconnect with their most powerful musical memories. The site is designed for dementia and extremely easy to navigate (three large buttons direct you to Classical Music, Pop Music or Theme Tunes) but everyone can enjoy it. We tried it ourselves and were hooked, particularly on the TV signature tunes from years gone by!

Singing for the Brain is an organized singing group service provided by Alzheimer’s Society which uses singing to bring people with dementia (and their loved ones) together in a friendly, stimulating social environment. Singing for the Brain is currently available in 30 different locations nationwide.

Lost Chord is a music therapy charity that visits 130 care homes providing more than 1,300 interactive music sessions each year.

Music for Life is a charity that brings together professional musicians, care staff and people with dementia through interactive music sessions.