Playlist for Life

18 May 2022

Dr Emma Vardy is a Consultant Geriatrician Salford Care Organisation, Northern Care Alliance NHS Foundation Trust. She is Honorary Senior Lecturer, University of Manchester and chair of the BGS's dementia and related disorders special interest group. She tweets at @emmavardy2

Dementia Action Week is 16-22 May and the theme this year is diagnosis. For me things have become more personal with a close family member just having received a diagnosis of dementia. To say it’s hard is an understatement and it certainly feels a very far cry from the call for people to ‘live well’ with dementia. There’s no getting away from the negative aspects around the time of diagnosis of dementia, but it’s not long before positives need to be found. And for me, and my family, that has been trying to keep as many aspects of life as accessible and constant as possible. One of those, and something that can bring much joy in life, is listening to music.

I am a regular user of the social media platform Twitter. One recent conversation opened up by Adam Gordon and Eileen Burns (president elect and past president for the BGS) was around what types of music may be appreciated by older people when they are in a care setting. The need to move away from the likes of Vera Lynn (no disrespect to Ms Lynn) was summed up nicely by Ms Ana Matronic, of the band the Scissor Sisters and Radio 2 DJ, in her surmise that ‘I’ll be damned if I ever go into a retirement community with Sinatra on repeat. I demand Saturday Nights of Fever, Drag Brunch on Sundays, and EVERY Monday be Blue Monday (New Wave/Goth High Tea).’ Certainly, this may be the taste of the generation of older people to come, rather than the present generation, but it does nicely highlight that we shouldn’t presume generational musical tastes. And so, through this conversation, I was introduced to playlist for life (PLFL).

I got in touch with Marion Coleman, the charity’s local organiser for Greater Manchester, who kindly provided me with a helpful summary of what PLFL is all about. PLFL operates in the UK and shares the power of music that is personal to people affected by dementia.  This creates a ‘soundtrack to life’ which includes tunes that evoke emotions and stimulate memories. PLFL is for communities, health and social care professionals, families and carers. The charity was founded in 2013 by Sally Magnusson, writer and broadcaster, from her experience of caring for her mother, who was diagnosed with dementia. As healthcare professionals, we see how familiar music can calm people who have dementia and the ensuing lessening of distress. PLFL ran a trial in a Glasgow care home which showed reduction in use of medication for distress through the use of music. Details can be found here.

There are a whole host of resources on getting started and tips, links and ideas on choice of device and songs. The resources include a ‘100 years’ book, listing the top 100 songs in the UK each year from 1915 to 2015. Resources are available in a number of different languages. There are also webinars aimed at a variety of groups including professionals working in healthcare and social care (such as individuals from care homes, NHS link workers, nurses, and music therapists). Webinar information is available here: . There are a number of help points across the UK providing advice and guidance locally. They are in community groups, libraries, dementia cafes, sports clubs, community police stations, faith centres and GP surgeries. There are now over 1800 help points across the UK and it is possible to apply to be a help point.

PLFL really have thought of everything to enable people with dementia to enjoy music. Email info [at] playlistforlife [dot] org [dot] uk or click here to find out more.  

You tube channel with how to videos on how to make playlists: YouTube

To finish on a positive note, as this is what this blog is all about, I give you a suggested playlist put together by friends and colleagues. Enjoy and use as you see fit.

  • I Heard it on the Grapevine by Marvin Gaye suggested by Eileen Burns
  • Bat Out of Hell by Meatloaf, suggested by Dr Lucy Pocock (GP in Bristol)
  • Everlasting Love by Love Affair, Wichita Lineman by Glen Campbell and December 63 by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, suggested by Claire Stopgate
  • Layla by Eric Clapton, suggested by George Rook, activist and campaigner
  • Please Release Me by Engelbert Humperdinck, suggested by Liz Hancock (business manager of Fulford care home in York)
  • Maggie May by Rod Stewart, suggested by Jackie Cecil from Brighton
  • Everybody Wants to Rule the World by Tears for Fears, suggested by Simon Henn (urgent response team, Salford)
  • One Way or Another by Blondie, No more heroes by the Stranglers and Mr Blue sky by ELO, suggested by Vikki Goodwin
  • Ain’t too Proud to Beg by The Temptations, suggested by Ana Matronic as being number one for her Mama


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