The central work of a music therapist is to think and act musically through their musicality and expertise on an instrument, and feel their way through what the patient or participant attending therapy needs at any given moment. Holding a chord and listening whilst it fades away, simultaneously providing musical support and opportunity for dialogue with a person with dementia, who no longer has cognitive abilities and can no longer speak using words, is central to the music therapist’s role. The skills of a music therapist are microcosmic techniques of thought leadership, in the private therapy room.
Our team has continued to respond to wider needs in society, through collaboration with Imperial College London and The University of Bergen, Norway, and our international research project with children and families. A multi-centred randomised controlled trial investigating the effects of music therapy for children on the autistic spectrum, and their families, is funded by the NIHR (the National Institute for Health Research). We hope to recruit over 40 children and families to the project by 2016, making 100 recruits in the UK. The results could change the way music therapy is delivered and our participation in this responds both to immediate needs of children and families and to the needs of the wider community.
We have developed new strands of research in music and brain science, responding to advances in neuroscience, and have reflected specifically upon the needs of people with dementia who are living longer. As a result we have succeeded in winning a bid of over £100,000 from The Music Therapy Charity, for new research investigating dyadic improvisation for people with dementia, comparing responses with healthy populations. This research builds upon our existing research in music therapy for people with dementia, where we have found that interacting through live music provides an essentially non-verbal means of communication where cognitive deterioration has affected memory, cognition and speech. By using EEG recordings, the study will compare data from the different participant groups and build a picture of how ageing affects musical improvisation in the brain. Previous work with adults with dementia showing their ability to engage with music motivated us to research how music stimulates and uses the brain, and particularly what neural processes are involved with active music-making. Relatively few brain studies have been carried out on active music-making, and even fewer studies exist on making music with others. Studying these patterns provides an important insight into how playing music affects the brain with the onset of neurodegeneration, and whether music continues to influence the brain after the playing has stopped.
Linked to this we held a large international conference in September 2015, with world-leading keynote speakers. We presented our new research in collaboration with MHA (a national dementia care provider), published in BMC geriatrics. Significant outcomes include reduction in behavioural and psychological symptoms, and well-being.The British Society for Music Therapy (BSMT) organised a Parliamentary debate where Prof Helen Odell-Miller was the keynote presenter, and current and past researchers from Anglia Ruskin University demonstrated recent research outcomes. We continue to reflect upon how to implement our findings in the wider field to meet the needs of people with dementia.