The healing power of music has been highlighted in recent weeks thanks to BBC One’s Our Dementia Choir, with Vicky McClure. The Star & Garter Singers in Surbiton is a choir made up of residents, relatives and staff, which meets each week. It is run by volunteer Diana Greenman. Below, she explains the importance of music and what it means to residents.
The Star & Garter Singers meet weekly on Wednesdays. An average of 35 residents sing to the accompaniment of Simon Hancock (Music Director) on the piano. It is obvious during the singing how residents, including those living with dementia, blossom and relax.
It is often said that music reaches inner depths no other activity can ever penetrate. Recent research carried out in Vicky McClure’s programme on BBC TV, ‘Our Dementia Choir’, demonstrates how the brain reacts positively to the effect of music, helping those living with dementia to lose their inhibitions and find that hidden voice encouraging a positive and happier outlook.
Music has numerous benefits. It has an inherent ability to generate an emotional response. It encourages relaxation leading to physiological changes in the body by reducing stress leading to lower blood pressure, improved respiration, reduced heart rate, and an easing of tension in muscles. Active participation of singing in a choir acts as a natural form of physiotherapy through breathing, clapping, tapping feet and moving in time to the music, all providing magical moments of warmth and joy.
Music is processed through the temporal lobes of the brain, areas closely associated with mood, anxiety and cognitive function. It can help people with mental health problems feel calm, reduce anxiety and depression and challenge apathy. Everyone has a basic need to be occupied, and singing with the Star & Garter Singers helps people feel better about themselves and become more alert and interested in their surroundings.
Each week’s choir programme is imaginative, providing a wide selection of music including opera, songs from the shows, pop and old-time music hall. Everyone is always keen to participate, which helps the residents to maintain skills and provide a sense of achievement.
The interactive nature of singing in a choir can improve communication skills through eye contact and smiles. Some residents who are unable to communicate verbally can feel involved and very much part of the choir as the power of music helps to break down barriers that people living with dementia may experience.
In addition, where dementia has robbed people of their memories, the songs manage to connect them to their pasts and allow them to reminisce with peers and staff.
Singing in the choir may help residents express themselves through the music often in ways that they feel unable to access in day-to-day interactions. Singing can stimulate or soothe, invigorate or relax, bringing comfort to mind, body and spirit.
Being part of The Star & Garter Singers provides a wonderful shared experience of pleasure and an opportunity for social inclusion. This in turn can lead to improved mood and a greater sense of cohesion between those receiving care and healthcare staff.