An audit of music therapy in acute National Health Service (NHS) settings for people with dementia in the UK and adaptations made due to COVID-19




music therapy, dementia, acute NHS inpatients, audit, COVID-19


Music therapy research and practice is growing in the field of dementia in residential and community settings. However, less is known about the prevalence and practice of music therapy in acute inpatient settings for people living with dementia. An online survey was distributed to the membership of the British Association for Music Therapy (BAMT) in the UK. Descriptive statistics were generated for quantitative data and thematic analysis was conducted on qualitative data. Fifteen music therapists responded (12.1% of BAMT members working in dementia care). The majority (80%) of respondents were employed by NHS Trusts, and most therapists spent half to one day on acute wards per week. Results showed similarities in patterns of working and theoretical approaches, with live, interactive, instrumental music making used by all and many drawing upon psychodynamic and person-centred approaches to inform their work. Techniques used included singing precomposed songs and instrumental improvisation. All respondents worked during the COVID-19 pandemic, with much variation between NHS Trusts. The challenges and positive aspects of working during the pandemic included a negative impact on staff and patients’ physical and psychological wellbeing, and a raised profile of the arts therapies, respectively. Further research is needed to evaluate the impact of music therapy on people living with dementia in acute NHS settings and raise awareness of how music therapy could help wards to meet the needs of service users as specified in the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines.

Author Biographies

Naomi Thompson, Cambridge Institute for Music Therapy Research, Anglia Ruskin University, UK

Naomi Thompson qualified as a music therapist from Anglia Ruskin University. She currently works part-time as a research assistant for the Cambridge Institute for Music Therapy Research investigating the impact of music therapy on older people with dementia in NHS mental health inpatient wards. Her clinical work includes work with children, young people and families, and homeless adults with substance misuse and mental health problems. []

Helen Odell-Miller, Cambridge Institute for Music Therapy Research, Anglia Ruskin University, UK

Helen Odell-Miller OBE is a Professor of Music Therapy, and Director of Cambridge Institute for Music Therapy Research, Anglia Ruskin University. Her research and clinical work contributed to establishing music therapy as a profession; specifically to innovating approaches for older people living with dementia, and for adults with mental health issues, in the NHS and across health, social care and community settings. She is currently Principal Investigator for HOMESIDE, a large five-country randomised controlled trial investigating music and reading for people living at home with their family carer. []