Music therapy for people living with dementia is not widely available in New Zealand, but a Hamilton-based trust is aiming to change that, and is seeking support to set up another branch in Hawke's Bay.

At present 60,000 people live with dementia in this country. This is expected to reach 170,000 by 2050.

As well as memory loss, symptoms can include anxiety, difficulties with communication, agitation and depression, and music therapy has a big role to play in improving the quality of life, say Music Moves Me Trust founders and national trustees Kath Woodley and Vicki Jones.

They were in Hawke's Bay this week seeking support to set up a branch of Music Moves Me Trust in Hawke's Bay following the formation of the trust in the Waikato in 2015, with another branch opened more recently in Christchurch.


Through the trust, qualified music therapists work with patients in aged-care facilities providing anything from playlists, featuring songs chosen by family members for people to listen to, to interactive music groups or one-on-one sessions.

Dr Jones said the therapy depended on the patient's unique circumstances and had been shown to be very effective.

"We had a woman who was hitting out at her carers. After going to music therapy her agitation settled, she stopped hitting out and was able to be moved from a special room to a different part of the care home.

"The tune that broke through for her was Love Me Tender."

Dr Jones stressed that music therapy was not entertainment, it was delivered by trained specialists, and was a recognised form of treatment around the world.

"Although it's quite new in New Zealand, in the United States it forms a more mainstream part of treatment. It needs to be a systemic part of regular therapy and treatment."

The pair said they chose to target Hawke's Bay after they spoke to a local music therapist, and they were now looking for people who would be interested in supporting a branch of the trust in the region.

Mrs Woodley said it would require a patron, a board and a financial committee, but apart from the people, everything else to set up the trust could be provided.

"We have all the templates, all the paperwork can be provided and we can cover the initial costs of setting up the trust - we just need people who are keen to take it on."

She said the trust covered the cost of providing the service through fundraising and grants. Clients and families were not charged.

While in Hawke's Bay the pair had visited local volunteer groups and funders to spread the word and gather support.

"Musical memory is in an old part of the brain, some studies have shown its an area that's preserved even in the later stages of the illness," Dr Jones said.

"Our aim is to use music therapy to support other forms of treatment, so that if people can't walk or talk they have a means of self-expression and autonomy."

For more information and to contact the trust go to