Music Australia News

Ground-breaking Music and Memory Program Expands in NSW

Photo:"Arts Health Institute
Jasmine Crittenden
| August 2, 2016

A ground breaking program that explores the links between music and memory was launched in 21 acute health care sites across New South Wales earlier this month. Practised widely in the United States and Canada, the initiative helps people experiencing dementia, depression, isolation and/or pain through the development of personalised playlists.

Titled ‘Music and Memory’ and developed in the US, this personalised playlist program is designed to improve quality of life for people with dementia, and more generally for people who are in pain, depressed or isolated.

In Australia, the program is being delivered by the Arts Health Institute, in conjunction with the NSW Agency for Clinical Innovation. The two organisations won a start-up grant in November 2015, which funded a pilot at two sites, and additional government funding has allowed another 19 sites to join. 10 are in metropolitan areas, while 11 are regional.

“Music and Memory helps create connections with people,” said Dr Maggie Haertsch, CEO of the Arts Health Institute. “It is a powerful way for family and friends to share music together, to remember stories and experiences. It also has an important benefit for people with complex health needs, living with pain and mental illness.”

Through participation, patients are likely to become happier and more social, and to develop deeper relationships with staff, family members and other participants. There is also mounting evidence that the programme can lead to decreased reliance on anti-psychotic medication.

New South Wales Minister for Health Jillian Skinner, who spoke at the official launch at the Art Gallery of New South Wales on 5 July, said, “I was blown away after watching the presentation for the Music and Memory program. I’ve seen videos of patients with dementia who were totally withdrawn, become energised, getting up and dancing and singing. These results are fantastic.”

The launch coincided with the Arts Health Institute’s fifth anniversary. Dr Haertsch said, “It’s the best birthday present ever. I’d like to see Music and Memory available to every person in aged care and in hospitals in Australia … and this certainly paves the way for that.”


  1. Ryan

    One of the problems facing residents of aged care facilities is isolation. I fail to see how listening to an ipod can alleviate this. With notoriously understaffed aged care facilities, who is one hand for a resident to discuss emotions / memories stirred during a listening session? Who is on hand to turn the volume down should it be too loud? The clips of people listening and reacting to old songs seem captivating, yet is this always the reaction upon each listening?

  2. Jo

    Let’s look at funding music therapy – a registered allied health profession which uses music to promote social connection. The research base is strong already and music therapists also are able to provide recorded music… And a whole lot more!

  3. Marc Bradley

    Just wanted to say my Dad is himself a dementia patient and is in a Dementia specific unit.My Dad (Brian Bradley) is also a ex professional musician and provides music to all the other Dementia patients in the unit, the staff love it and say that it has dramatically changed the relationships in the unit.I have witness the sessions , when my Dad plays the piano and it is truly magic, they sing,they move, they engage,they smile and so to does the staff and carers.I cannot underrate the power of this therapy.

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