Last week I visited Betsy, whose carers reported she had barely spoken or eaten in a few days. She was in bed, feeling unwell, very physically frail.
After alerting Betsy that I was there, stroking her hands and head, I told her that it was Sunday morning and asked her whether she will have gone to church in former years. Betsy responded with a sound, but kept her eyes shut. I found lyrics on my phone to a hymn I remembered from school - All Things Bright And Beautiful - and began to sing.
By the end of the first verse Betsy was singing along with me, a clear, resounding soprano voice. She was even managing the odd few lyrics. When I moved onto ‘I could have danced all night’ from My Fair Lady, she began to sway her arms in the air, conducting us, and we sang the last line loudly and joyfully in unison - such that the carers came wondering back in and exclaimed “amazing!!” Betsy was now alert, and continued to hum and 'la la' the tune with a smile on her face. When I left I could still here her sharing her gift from down the end of the corridor.
This is just one example of how powerful and beautiful music can be for people living with dementia. Thankfully more and more stories like these are being appreciated by family and professional carers, and researchers are gathering wellbeing (mood and engagement levels) and neurological (brain activity) evidence to prove what we already sense to be true - that music can help people living with dementia “come alive”, connect with memories, and celebrate identity.
From knowledge about what listening to or performing music does to the brain, to wonderful video clips of the power of music in action, there are plenty of resources now to help spread awareness of this critical aspect of person centred dementia care.
There is also a growing number of resources for live music events, and digital playlists. For example Songhaven is a london charity commited to bringing meaningful human connection to people living with dementia through the power of highest quality professional music performances. And Music For Dementia has an excellent online resource for those wanting to collate meaningful, personalised music playlists for people living with dementia.
Whatever the genre, and whether live or recorded, it is worth exploring how the power of music can positively impact your loved one's quality of life.
Image from mfd2020.co.uk