Playlist for Life: the value of music in radiology departments

Published: 07 March 2018 Ezine

At the 2017 Society of Radiographers Annual Delegates Conference (ADC) a motion was passed asking members to consider using the Playlist for Life initiative.

Playlist for Life is a UK charity that champions the use of a personalised music playlist for people living with dementia. The music is useful in evoking pleasant memories for sufferers.

The charity has volunteers who are described as music detectives; they help friends, family and people living with dementia to build their own playlists.

The SCoR, at the request of our members, are advocating and promoting the use of Playlist for Life (PfL) in radiology departments. The move recognises that music can be a soothing mechanism for patients living with dementia.

Many departments tacitly recognise the value of music in its function as a mediator of calm; they often play music in waiting rooms, staff work areas, and staffrooms. PfL differs, however, because it offers a means of tailoring that music for the individual patient.

Sarah Metcalfe, the chief executive of PfL, wrote a piece for The Guardian newspaper extolling the power of music for people living with dementia, and outlining how music stimulates a person’s auditory cortex but also areas of the brain involved with emotion, memory, language, decision-making, movement and reactions.

The Alzheimer’s Society also recognises the power of music and run ‘singing for the brain’ groups to bring people with dementia joy and encourage them to interact with others.

The value of music is further recognised in the NHS, with many trusts supporting rock choirs for the health and wellbeing of their own staff. In the community, a number of arts companies run outreach programmes, taking live music into care homes. Imagine if your department could call in the choir for distressed or anxious patients!

Assuming that you don’t have immediate access to choral imaging or therapy staff (how glorious it would be if you did), a playlist of music tailored for your patient seems to be an easy alternative.
PfL could be implemented by patients bringing their music along on a personal device and listening via headphones.

A poster inviting people to bring music for their next appointment, or a note on appointment letters, would inform patients, families and carers.

For departments that are lucky enough to have a league of friends at their hospital/care centre, it is conceivable that funding a number of devices for departments could be considered.

Sarah Metcalfe suggests that there is a movement to democratise the power of music and that by harnessing the potential of something that we all possess - the playlist to our own lives - families and carers can be brought closer to people living with dementia.

PfL have worked with psychologists at the University of Edinburgh who find that a peak ‘memory bump’ of music may be laid down by people between the ages of ten and 25. A playlist could draw upon music from a particular era tailored for the person. Finding the right music for people and listening for half an hour prior to difficult or stressful activities has been shown to reduce falls, distress and stress among people with dementia.

An officer at the SCoR had the pleasure of seeing first hand the beautiful and transforming effect of music at the Manchester Science Festival last year at a session entitled ‘The science and art of dementia’. A choir comprised of people living with dementia, some in wheelchairs, were transformed when they started to sing. People who had been sitting in silence were animated, looking across the room and smiling.

Sarah Metcalfe echoes this experience when she describes how people who can’t speak, when presented with music can sing. People who can’t walk make attempts to dance and people who have been withdrawn begin to interact.

For the diagnostic radiographers that remember running IVP lists, those memories probably include listening to many hours of radio. Although some will enjoy it, not everyone does; we are diverse and have differing tastes.

We run the risk of assuming that a person will enjoy music. Firstly, did the person you are sharing a list with enjoy music pre-dementia and will this have changed now that they are living with the condition? Also we should be careful not to subject people to ‘objectionable music against will’. We all have songs that we dislike and some people can find it hard to tolerate background noise or music.

There is a further caveat. Some people can’t tolerate headphones. PfL recommends over the ear headphones. Echoing the premise of values-based radiography, the simple solution is to ask. Question your patient, their families and carers: Do you like music? Would you like to listen to music today? What music would you like to listen to?

Reading literature about the subject it appears that we all - students, radiographers, assistant practitioners - can harness the power of music further. All patients can be classed as vulnerable in some way; people are anxious about examinations, procedures, results and diagnosis and we can care with the use of music.

Can we create a set of playlists for use in our departments, for those who don’t come with their own personal list, based upon preferences predicted from their year of birth? This could be a long-list of possible tunes based on the memory bump, or areas like hymns for those who were church goers, or local/regional tunes.

BBC Radio 3 has produced a series of programmes that aim to raise the nation’s knowledge of music that can help people living with dementia. SCoR wish to progress the work further, to say that music would help a much wider range of patients than we care for and work with in imaging and radiotherapy departments.

Music can ease pain not just for people living with dementia. It can be used with patients waiting for or undergoing interventional procedures, A&E examinations, waiting for MR, CT, or radiotherapy. Some early evaluations of using playlists in A&E in NHS Fife shows great promise with patients appearing more relaxed and happy.

For patients who have dementia, watch Harry and Margaret on the PfL website.

There is also a link on the website to create a playlist. You can use the musical clues to create a playlist for the range of patients who visit your department next week.