Dementia Action Week, starting 21stMay, is an Alzheimer’s Society campaign to raise awareness of and offer support to people living with dementia. Among the many therapies that improve the well-being of people living with dementia, music therapy delivers exceptional benefits. For people with later stage dementia who may no longer be able to verbally communicate, music can help them to re-connect with others.
Listening to music and singing increases the production of ‘happy hormones’ serotonin, oxytocin and endorphins. The Alzheimer’s Society recognises the positive effect music can have in dementia care.* Veterans’ charity The Royal Star & Garter Homes recognises music as a beneficial part of resident care. There are concerts and live music events most days for all residents, and another three to four per week specifically for residents living with dementia.
Diana Greenman was involved with the charity Music in Hospitals & Care for 26 years and Chief Executive for 14 years. Her father, Eric, was a resident at The Royal Star & Garter Homes. In April 2016 she became a volunteer at the charity where she was invited to start up a choir, The Star & Garter Singers. Here, Diana shares her experiences of music making a huge difference to people living with dementia.
‘I was thrilled to be invited, along with Simon Hancock (Music Director/Choir Master), to start The Star & Garter Singers. What a joyful time we all have every Wednesday!
Music is the most emotive of the arts and has great therapeutic properties. Listening to a live performance or participating in singing can help reduce levels of pain, anxiety and depression as one’s focus is on making music rather than immediate worries and fears. Some people who are unable to communicate verbally find they can sing familiar tunes, word perfectly, which produces a wonderful sense of achievement. Music provides an effective outlet for expression and interaction, opening closed doors and releasing tension and frustration.
I saw a great example of this whilst visiting a family friend, who was unable to communicate through the spoken word but sang with me word perfectly to, ‘If You Were the Only Girl in the World’. This was so emotional I really had to fight back the tears. Perhaps we should start talking in song!
Many people with dementia never lose their sense of rhythm, melody and pitch. On many occasions, I have witnessed people whose dementia is advanced dancing in perfect time to a tune from distant memories. Confusing thoughts are put to one side during these magical moments of singing, dancing, foot tapping – just enjoying being part of something that is familiar and sharing it with one’s friends and loved ones. Music reaches inner depths no other activity ever penetrates.
Participating in a musical activity can improve communication skills between residents and staff and reduce feelings of isolation. The Star & Garter Singersis a fine example, where everyone shares in music making. Residents, staff, volunteers, relatives, everyone is one happy choir!’