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ARU's delivering the power of music to care homes

Published: 17 May 2022 at 12:41

A woman taking part in music therapy in a care home

New partnership with Anchor is using music therapy to help people with dementia

The Cambridge Institute for Music Therapy Research at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) has launched a new project with Anchor care homes to use the power of music to improve outcomes for residents living with dementia.

With an ageing population and the number of people with dementia expected to rise from 1.1 million to 1.6 million by 2050, there is mounting concern around dementia in the UK.  

Every three minutes, someone in the UK is diagnosed with dementia and new research from Anchor, England’s largest not-for-profit provider of care and housing for people in later life, reveals that 69% of people in the East of England worry about a loved one getting dementia.

With expert support from ARU’s music therapists and funding from The Utley Foundation, this new 18-month project will launch across 13 of Anchor’s care homes in England.  By tapping into the power of music, the project aims to bring joy and comfort, trigger fond memories, and benefit the mental health of people living with dementia.

The music therapy will involve both group and individual sessions, and each session will include a different mix of songs, activities, and instruments, to achieve maximum benefit for residents as well as to train carers in a range of exercises, enriching the care they provide to residents. 

ARU's Cambridge Institute for Music Therapy Research has a team of 30 researchers, including PhD students, and is the largest and most influential music therapy research institute in the world. ARU’s ground-breaking work has contributed to the Music for Dementia Commission in the House of Lords in 2018, and to changes in the NICE guidelines for dementia in 2019, recommending music therapy for people with dementia for the first time.

Work by the Cambridge Institute for Music Therapy Research was rated as “world-leading” in the national Research Excellence Framework (REF) published last week, and earlier this year ARU received the Queen’s Anniversary Prize in recognition of the outstanding research taking place to help people living with dementia, and their families.

Anchor’s own research strongly supports the use of music to boost wellbeing, with over three quarters (77%) of people surveyed in the East of England finding joy in music, 79% saying music helps bring back fond memories, 71% saying music is beneficial for older people’s mental health, and a compelling 76% saying music therapy sessions should be widely available for people living with dementia.

Looking closer to home, 71% of people in the East of England would want music therapy if they themselves developed dementia, and 74% would want music therapy available for a loved one living with dementia. This sentiment is reinforced in the recent UK Music and Music for Dementia Power of Music report which supports the call for greater access to music projects to improve wellbeing outcomes. 

As well as calling on the Government to include music therapy within its forthcoming Dementia Care White Paper, ARU and Anchor are also asking that local authorities, local NHS trusts and care commissioners promote and raise awareness of music therapy in all dementia care packages, in addition to ensuring that information and resources are available to all people living with dementia following diagnosis.

Asa Johnson, Dementia Services Improvement Manager at Anchor, is leading the project’s rollout. He said: “Every day, we see how music transforms our residents' wellbeing and moods. It is truly inspiring to see our residents’ faces light up during the sessions.

“We look to the upcoming Dementia Care White Paper to commit to implementing music therapy more widely in dementia care policies and pathways, to ensure all those living with dementia can live life to the full.”

Professor Helen Odell-Miller OBE, Director of the Cambridge Institute for Music Therapy Research at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), said:

“The beauty of music therapy for people living with dementia is that it can be tailored to meet individual requirements and interests, it can help reduce symptoms such as agitation and depression, can enable relationships with carers and loved ones, and can bring joy and comfort.  Memories can be sparked, and the music therapist engages with these memories to improve wellbeing.

“We’re thrilled that Anchor shares our passion for implementing music therapy into everyday care for people living with dementia. We hope this project proves the importance of access to music therapy for all.”


Lizzie Cody, Foundation Manager at The Utley Foundation, said:

“We are delighted to support this innovative and impactful partnership between Anglia Ruskin and Anchor. Integrating music into dementia care across the spectrum has always been our aim and we hope this work will take us one step further towards that goal. 

“It has been a pleasure to work with the two organisations as they crafted this programme of work, and we are excited to see how much benefit Anchor residents receive from music. We hope this blueprint will inspire other care groups to consider how they might use music in their own work.”