Live Music and Dementia

A wind quintet from New Harmonie has been able to continue working with dementia sufferers with generous funding from the Henry Smith Charity and the Garfield Weston Foundation. The group worked with Care staff to provide live music with exercise, singing, dancing and relaxation at the Lovett Centre in Goring-by-Sea, Horncastle House, Sharpthorne and Forest Lodge, Nutley. New Harmonie has now run 60 workshops in 24 centres mainly in Sussex with increasing focus on dementia.

The effect of bringing live music to dementia sufferers is often quite dramatic. Care staff sometimes tell us that we should expect one or two to leave soon after we start. In our experience this is very rare. Maybe it is the closeness to the instruments, their different tones and vibrations or the interactions between residents and new faces - but we do seem to make a difference.

We could not run the sessions without the enthusiasm and support of the care staff. In all three centres they have encouraged patients to exercise, sing and if possible get up to dance – the latter touching many distant memories of happy days. One lady said “I really enjoyed the dancing. I always think I won’t remember how and then my feet just take over”.

A member of the care staff described her charges as “friends on a long journey” and where individuals are on that journey and how they feel on the day we are with them, determines the reactions we have.

At one extreme, a delightful lady who appeared to be asleep for most of the session, suddenly awoke and began to sing and clap her hands in time to the music. We had obviously touched a part of her distant memory. One gentleman had been a professional trumpet player with the Hallé Orchestra and our horn player wrote “For me this was the most exciting and rewarding experience so far because one of the dementia sufferers, who used to be a professional trumpeter, brought his trumpets in to show us (and even blew one of them when encouraged by us). He told me he was so inspired by our playing the previous week he had dug them out and started playing again. He said with a broad grin and sparkling eyes ‘You've switched me on again’”.

Dr Geoffrey Richardson who runs New Harmonie said “ The various forms of dementia are truly distressing conditions for the person concerned and their families. An increasing number of us will experience someone in our family with a dementia. Music’ particularly live music, has a remarkably therapeutic effect on those with this condition. Some general comments from people with dementia whom we met, and who were able to communicate more easily, demonstrated that we did make a difference even if only for a short time”.

Lovett Centre. “Loved it;” “I feel very relaxed and not too tired. It was lovely having everyone joining in;” “It took me back to when I was on HMS Belfast;” “Enjoyed it very much. Everything;” “You’re the best in the district. You kept smiling which made all the difference – it means everyone feels happy;” and “Really sad you are not coming again.”

Horncastle “Lovely to hear all the old songs;” “Good to wake us up;” “Much better than having physio on my own which is very lonely;” “Sometimes sad to hear the songs I used to dance to;” “Saw some people smile for the first time in days;” “You were lovely, friendly visitors;” “Music was very professional;” ”Enjoyed myself too much to relax;” and “Usually can’t be bothered to exercise on my own – not worth it. This was different”

Forest Lodge ”I didn’t do the exercises – very difficult for me;” “I am very deaf but I loved it. So good of all of you to come. Please come again;” “Live music is so much better – makes the biggest difference;”. “Really loved you being here, appreciated it very much. It was marvelous” and ”Thoroughly enjoyed it. Having live music made us feel more part of it.”