Two musicians have developed an app to help enrich the lives of people living with dementia after experiencing the effects of the illness first-hand.
Mark Smulian and Stewart Redpath, from Bristol, have created the Lydian MindHarp, a tool which allows non- musicians to create their own music.
The Mindharp has been shown to help people with dementia engage with music and interact with people around them – having a long-lasting effect on their emotional well-being.
Producer and bass player Mark, who has created Platinum and Gold albums for internationally successful artists, said: “We are excited by the MindHarp as we know it can enrich lives for both those affected by the condition and their carers.
“When people can make their own music, it brings them into the present moment. The impact on the mind is much stronger than simply listening to music.”
The MindHarp, which can be played on an i-Pad, enables users to enjoy making music without the fear of ‘getting it right.’
This is particularly important for people with dementia, who often feel self-conscious when aware of their condition.
Mark, who has also used music and the MindHarp as part of a peace-making approach in Northern Ireland and the Middle East, saw how music helped his own father, who had Alzheimer’s.
He said: “We played my dad’s favourite music and saw him become more animated. He started talking when he heard the music, which was fascinating to watch.”
Mark’s father died the next day, at the age of 80, after a 10-year battle with the disease. But the memory of that day, and Mark’s conviction his passion for music could help others, lived on.
Over ten years later he would meet Stewart, who had also seen the rapid decline of a family member due to dementia.
Stewart had become aware of the scale of condition, which is set to affect over one million people by 2025, while following his son’s study at the University of Bath.
His son, Kieran, worked on a course project for the Dementia Action Alliance (DAA) – and Stewart began to think of ways music could be applied to help the condition.
Stewart, a guitar player, said: “It’s increasingly widespread and music is a way to help people – either those directly affected by the disease or those caring for them- to live better.”
Stewart and Mark worked on the MindHarp for nearly four years. They visited the Peggy Dodd Day Centre, which supports people with memory loss, on a voluntary basis for seven months to develop the app with both carers and clients.
The MindHarp includes eight different coloured buttons, of carefully composed musical sounds. It also includes atmospheric and associative sounds, such as a horse trotting or bells ringing.
Several buttons can be pressed at once and it can be played alone or as part of a group – providing an endless range of music.
Music stimulates the so-called ‘pleasure centres’ of the brain, releasing the happy hormones, dopamine and oxytocin and reducing the stress hormone cortisol.
A report from the Commission Dementia and Music, in partnership with the independent think tank International Longevity Centre (ILC), has found evidence that music therapy also helps reduce behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia – such as agitation, depression, delusions and aggression.