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Indoor Dementia Activities. Part 1

By Mary Merheim. www.dementiadoulas.uk

The rain is lashing down outside, we are under ‘lockdown 2’ and it’s dark by 5pm now.  I’m usually a wellies and waterproof kind of girl, but even I’m not tempted to take the dogs out in this!

Anyway, there are lots of reasons why we might be ‘stuck inside’ with someone with dementia and not have a clue what to do with them, so I’ve done some research.

Today I am going to talk about the wonder of music and radio memories and review 4 websites aimed at providing music to help people with memory problems. Agitation, apathy and anxiety are the three menaces of dementia, and all can be reduced by familiar music. 

 It is said that you form particular bonds with music between 10 and 30 years of age.  The music your parents or partner loved can also evoke huge emotional responses.

Music has the ability to connect people to the here and now in ways that spoken language cannot.  It is something that carers and those with Dementia can enjoy, reminisce and explore together.

Whenever your loved one feels the most unsettled…. usually at some point in the evening, why not settle in with a cup of tea (or glass of wine) and create a routine of listening to the radio via the internet?  If you want, we can help set up the routine with you.  Have a look at our page on Dementia Care: https://dementiadoulas.uk/dementia-care/  In fact tonight, I am doing just this.  Pre Lockdown 2 I was taking a client out for 10 hours a week to give his wife a break. Since we can’t go exploring at the moment he is really struggling with Sundowning and evening restlessness. 

I’ve spent a glorious few hours researching the following websites for him and his family and here are my thoughts:

  • BBC Music Memories
  • Music for Dementia
  • Playlist for Life
  • Songhaven at Home

BBC Music Memories


This is a really user friendly site with lots on offer.  I loved the ‘Theme Tunes’ section…all the familiar ones from my youth (the 70’s) plus loads from before my time, I think.  The ‘social music’ selection is a great idea too – from football chants, to Scout songs to rousing hymns.  Love it!

What’s also super about it is the International feel.  Music from 18 different countries and in 15 languages from Russian to Tamil.

Then we come to popular music and you can choose any decade from the 1920’s up to the 2010’s.   I randomly picked the 1950’s and counted over 120 tunes…. they don’t provide you with the full songs, but each has a link to Spotify / Apple Music if you want to listen to the whole thing and explore the album it is from.

With over 20 composers in the Classical section there is something for everyone.

As well as offering music, you can listen to radio shows and news from different decades.  These play for an hour and a half. You can also choose to listen to local news from the past.  Along with the local news there are printable worksheets.  In my opinion they focus too much on…. ‘Do you remember?’ which is not the best (actually, in my opinion the WORST) question to ask someone with Dementia.

Music for Dementia


This is part of a bigger Music for Dementia campaign. Here you have 5 different radio stations playing music 24 hours a day.  A Godsend for anyone with Dementia / Alzheimers or any issues with sleep. 

When you click onto the home page you choose one of four stations depending on when you were born, and it just plays songs and tunes from when you were in your teens and twenties. (These stations actually play 30’s and 40’s; 50’s; 60’s or 70’s favourites)

The fifth station is the M4D Mix……this one plays a mix of each plus has specialist hours like Country or musicals. On Sundays it plays hymns and movie tunes.

It’s very good if you want something familiar playing in the background and it does play the full versions.

Playlist for Life

Now this is a slightly different concept.  This involves lots of ‘homework’ and you devising your own playlist.  The website provides guides that you can download and print to help you focus on the music that means something to you and your loved ones.  First of all you can print the sheet that is called Conversation Starters.  This asks lots of questions like “What’s your favourite party tune?” and “Which song reminds you of your favourite holiday?”. Once you have this list you can then expand the thinking behind it on the Music Journal you can create.

Then it is up to you how you put the songlist together.  They suggest you could have a pile of your favourite CDs all ready to play.  Another option is to devise a Playlist using an online music resource like Spotify or iTunes.  You can then play that on any smart device wherever you are.  Finally you could purchase an MP3 player and have your playlist with you wherever you are and all you need is a pair of headphones! 

Creating the list of tunes could be a rewarding, intimate experience for you to share over a few sessions.  Equally, it might be somewhat frustrating and feel like hard work.

My advice would be not to rush the process.  Maybe just to think about one memory at a time….like thinking about your favourite childhood songs in the first instance.  You may have to play a selection and see which evoke a response, however small or fleeting.  On the next time play these and see if they create the same reaction.  Build up the playlist in sections, over time.


Songhaven was set up to present short classical / operatic concerts that were Dementia friendly and could be taken to Care Homes, hospitals or sheltered living establishments.  Lockdowns have prevented these from going ahead, obviously, so there are videos of previous ones on the website.

They are utterly charming, last about half an hour and are stunningly performed.

You can sign up for a free newsletter and get sent the link to a new concert every 2 – 3 weeks.

Final Words

I love all four websites I’ve reviewed for very different reasons.  

To optimise their value though, I have the following advice:

  • Listen together most of the time.  Listening to music together will draw you even closer and connect you in the ‘here and now’ as well as the past.
  • Play the music for half an hour at a time (possibly more than once a day)……long enough to really immerse, but not too long that it becomes boring.  Use this as a calming or distracting tool before a difficult task like dressing, going out, showering or bed time.  
  • If listening on ear phones, check the volume!  They don’t want it too loud.
  • Use it to reduce stress and anxiety……yours and the person you care for!  If you need to – use it as respite.  During a bad day, put on the music (whichever one) and give yourself a bit of distance for half an hour.  We all did it with the kids (I think Peppa Pig is the current favourite).

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