The Australian music therapy program for dementia patients going global

The creator of a new home-based music therapy program for people living with dementia says it is uniquely placed to help patients from non-English speaking backgrounds.

Professor Felicity Baker (R) runs a music therapy session to people living with dementia

Professor Felicity Baker (R) runs a music therapy session to people living with dementia Source: Supplied

Researchers hope a new Melbourne-developed music therapy program will change the lives of people living with dementia around the world.

The Homeside program aims to improve the life of people living with dementia by teaching carers to use music as a management strategy.

Music therapy experts train carers in the home, so they do not have to go out for appointments.

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Carers are also taught to adjust the program to fit the changing mood of the person they are caring for.

"We know music stimulates autobiographical recall. When we listen to music that's meaningful to us, it stimulates memories and positive emotions,” Professor Felicity Baker, Homeside creator and head of music therapy at Melbourne University, told SBS News.

“When the carer uses music in a very targeted way to stimulate autobiographical recall, they see the person come alive, the person behind dementia."



Since its launch in August, Homeside has found participants in Victoria and Tasmania and is being rolled out in Britain, Norway, Poland and Germany.

The program, the culmination of 10 years’ work, is well-suited to people living with dementia from non-English speaking backgrounds, Professor Baker said.

"One of the important things about music is that it's able to cross different cultures. It is a very cultural practice and it is used in different ways in different cultures.

“Our program also does not require carers to attend a program that is English language-focused. It will help them choose music that is connected to the patient's own culture and history."

Music therapy can provide people living with dementia a management strategy that does not rely on medication
Music therapy can provide people living with dementia a management strategy that does not rely on medication Source: AAP


Professor Baker said by teaching carers to choose certain music at home they can evoke specific responses quickly, at no cost and without the use of medications.

Music therapy offers people living with dementia another management strategy, Dementia Australia CEO Maree McCabe said.

"The medications that are often given to people living with dementia can dull their senses – but the experience of music is something that can heighten them. "

Dementia is the second leading cause of death nationwide and just under 450,000 people live with it, according to Dementia Australia.



Many Australians living with dementia live at home with family carers – many of whom report experiencing physical, emotional and economic stress.

Home-based music therapy could ease some of that stress, Ms McCabe said.

"It can give carers some respite if they know their loved one is sitting, listening to music and enjoying that. They can be doing other things they need to do, even just doing household chores, where often they do not have the ability to do that,” she said.

Professor Baker hopes to develop Homeside’s "train-the-trainer" model to accommodate different cultural, linguistic and family structures as the program finds more participants.

"Many music therapy programs out there already are not catering so well to people from different cultures. That is not to say there is nothing, but we think this is something really simple and easy to use,” she said.

“As our program develops and as we are able to scale it up, we will be able to tailor the program to individual cultural backgrounds, and hopefully, train people in their own language to use this."

If you and the person you are caring for would like to take part in Homeside,


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4 min read
Published 24 October 2019 at 4:32pm
By Evan Young
Source: SBS News