An innovative new app is triggering musical memories for people with dementia to help them cope with the challenges of daily life.
The program for mobile devices is being developed with the help of residents at the Pendine Park care organisation in Wrexham who specialise in providing dementia care.
The Memory Tracks app is the brainchild of business development expert Gordon Anderson.
He is working on it with Manchester Metropolitan University’s Stuart Cunningham, who is also a visiting professor of affective computing at Wrexham Glyndwr University, alongside Mark Brill, Senior Lecturer in Creative Advertising, and Harry Whalley, Lecturer in Music Composition and Technology, at the University for the Creative Arts.
Dementia symptoms include memory loss which causes confusion and agitation, and the app aims to help people overcome these challenges posed by the cruel condition by linking their daily tasks to their personal choice of reminiscence music.
According to Mr Anderson, Pendine Park were the ideal partners for the project because they had championed the use of the arts in social care for more than two decades.
He said: “We hope to see a real and measurable improvement in the mood of residents who use the app, and a much happier care environment within the home.
“Initially care practitioners will play songs on tablets from a list of tracks tailored to the individual resident.
“Those songs will act as triggers, for example; one song may mean it’s time to get dressed another may mean its medication time or time to eat or exercise.
“The idea stems from the fact that music builds long-term associative memories which are often tied to emotions which are proven to be more resilient to loss of other types of memories.
“Dementia results in steady deterioration of the brain function causing a wide range of daily issues for sufferers such as anxiety, disorientation, anger, fear, irritability, depression, and withdrawal.
“The use of reminiscence music can significantly decrease many of these behaviours and improve the lives of those living with dementia and their carers.”
He added: “When we introduce Memory Track music we hope to see an improvement in the mood of dementia patients. We have built up a large database of songs from the 30s, 40s and 50s. It’s not about trying to find favourite songs but songs that people will instantly recognise.
“Research shows that people remember the songs from their early childhood best. It’s as if when they get to their teenage years their interests become more specific or there are perhaps so many it becomes more difficult to remember.
“The hope is that, in time, the dementia patient will recognise the connection between a particular song and an activity.”
Professor Cunningham said: “The initial part of the trial will involve care practitioners observing and recording the moods of dementia patients without any Memory Tracks music being played.
“We will only know if the app works if we have a base line and know what the mood of residents was before the music was introduced via the app.
“We chose Pendine Park care organisation for the trial as I know from my time at Wrexham Glyndwr University that there is a strong connection between the organisation and the arts and particularly music.
“We know how good care is at Pendine Park and we know how passionate everyone is about the power of the arts. It seemed to us that Pendine Park was a natural partner for the project.”
He added: “The further development of Memory Tracks will utilise behavioural or physical triggers and sensors to create a contextual, more immersive user experience.
“The framework is that of song, association and task coming together with the robust emotional association providing the ‘glue’ between song and task.
“Memory Tracks is a care platform that provides a personalised selection of music tailored to an individual dementia patient’s routine, their family, carers and needs.
“Further development of Memory Tracks will utilise behavioural or physical triggers to create a contextual, more immersive user experience.
“Through these tools we can help those living with Dementia remain more independent in the early stages of the illness and in later stages, to be more connected to their environment.
“The expected impact will be that patients suffer lower anxiety, depression and agitation in addition to making the care process easier. Their Memory Tracks will also serve as a constant connection between the patient and their family, assisting recognition and shared experiences.”
The research at Pendine Park is partly funded by the Consortium for Research Excellence, Support and Training (CREST).
Sarah Edwards, who has been the artist in residence at Pendine Park for more than 20 years, is working closely with the Memory Tracks team to develop the app and oversee the trial.
She said: “We are really fortunate to have the opportunity to play a part in this important study. The Memory Track app has huge potential and could open the door to many other areas within the wider care environment or even in mental health.
“I’m looking forward to seeing how the study develops and witnessing first hand if we can use the Memory Track app to help residents with their daily routine.
“We believe this is the perfect project for us to be helping because the arts provide the golden thread that runs through everything we do and led to the setting up of the Pendine Arts and Community Trust which supports artistic endeavour and community groups across North Wales.
“We are passionate about enriching lives across the generations, for our residents and staff alike.”
It was a sentiment echoed by Cindy Clutton, the manager of Pendine Park’s Hillbury Care Home, who believes the Memory Tracks app and study is an innovative and exciting development.
She said: “We know our residents get a real lift from music and despite living with dementia many can remember songs from their childhood. We have lots of activities centred on music and I’m fascinated to see how this project will develop.
“The project and study couldn’t work without having our care practitioners playing a full and active role and I have to say they are all on board with the study.
“We have even had staff coming in voluntarily on their days off to learn how the Memory Tracks app works. Staff are eager and enthusiastic about the project and keen to play a part.”