Homeside: music therapy for people living with dementia goes global

Head of Music Therapy Professor Felicity Baker has launched a pilot program for her project, Homeside.
Head of Music Therapy Professor Felicity Baker has launched a pilot program for her project, Homeside.

Homeside is training family carers worldwide to use music interventions to manage behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia.

A home-based intervention program that uses music to help people with dementia is set to change lives worldwide

Called Homeside, the program aims to improve life by teaching the family carer to use music interventions to ease and manage the distressing behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia.

Music therapy experts will train carers, in the home, to choose and deliver the right music and reading activities, and to observe positive and negative responses. They are also taught to adjust the program to fit the changing mood of the person they are caring for.

Launched two months ago, the pilot program is now being used in the United Kingdom, Norway, Poland and Germany. It aims to recruit 1000 participants - 500 carers and 500 people living with dementia at home - and has already found participants in Victoria and Tasmania.

The brainchild of Professor Felicity Baker, Homeside is the culmination of 10 year’s work. Professor Baker is Head of Music Therapy and Director of the International Research Partnerships for the Creative Arts and Music Therapy Research Unit at the University of Melbourne.

“We are looking at how this music training program improves carer wellbeing, and the management of symptoms of people living with dementia who want to remain at home,” Professor Baker said. “What we want to do is observe how the use of music positively transforms their behaviour and enables them to connect more with their family members, and creates a less stressful environment .

“We’re also wanting to study the impact of the music engagement activities on the carers themselves because we know if we look after the carers, they’ll do a better job of looking after the people they’re caring for.”

Fifty million people worldwide are living with dementia (the number is expected to be 130 million by 2050), with a new case diagnosed every second. Many people are cared for at home with over 60 per cent living in low- and middle-income countries with family carers. Their carers experience physical, emotional and economic stress. Most of the cost (an estimated US$818 billion a year) is related to family and social costs, rather than medical care.

Professor Baker said the study will allow researchers to see how the program works globally.

“Each country has its own set of rules, different systems for caring for their elderly, and different ways of practicing music therapy that we have to take into account as we design our study,” she said. “In some countries it is usual practice for people living with dementia to move into supported care at a much earlier stage compared with here in Australia, for example; so, the spectrum of people living with the disease at home is quite different across different countries.”

Homeside plans to develop train-the-trainer models, develop modes of delivery that accommodate different social cultural, geographical, and family structures and translate these into different languages. It also plans to create online tools, including an app.

The program is so important and predicted to achieve excellent outcomes that the University of Melbourne has chosen to focus on Homeside for its end of year Believe – the Campaign for the University of Melbourne – appeal.

Families already using the program say it is making a difference.

“Music helps make difficult tasks like taking a bath much easier, resulting in less resistance and agitated behaviour,” said one participant. “With music, I can enjoy many wonderful moments during the day together with mum.”

A person living with dementia said: “I could get up and sing and think nothing of being nervous… this experience gave me a lot of confidence, and a lot of enjoyment.”

Donations can be made to the Homeside appeal, Music heals minds and hearts, here.

If you and the person you are caring for would like to take part in Homeside, contact or or phone +61 3 8344 4449.

This article was first published on University of Melbourne Newsroom.