Singing has been proven to play a special role in dementia care and one Sussex care home has capitalised on music’s therapeutic effects by partnering with Alzheimer’s initiative – Singing for the Brain.
Clifden House, specialist dementia care centre in Seaford, started holding a daily singing group for residents after learning about the work of Chreanne Montgomery-Smith, of the Alzheimer’s Society.
Chreanne devised Singing for the Brain sessions in 2003 after noticing that even though other memories may be hard to retrieve for a person with dementia, music is actually easy to recall.
“Singing for the Brain is mainly about engaging people and helping them to feel that life is worthwhile,” said Chreanne. “The benefits are confidence, self-esteem and friendship. Even if people with dementia can’t talk, they may be able to sing, whistle, clap or tap their feet.”
Clifden House focuses on music that residents are familiar with – mainly songs from the fifties and sixties. Activitiescoordinator of Clifden House, Deena McCormack said: “The words on the screen are more for me than our residents as they remember all the words. Singing really lifts the mood and is a great way to finish the day.”
The reasons for music’s remarkable effects are still being looked into. Some point to the fact that the auditory system of the brain is the first to fully function at 16 weeks, and it also seems to be the last to leave us.
Andrew Budson, of the Boston University Alzheimer’s Disease Center points to the fact that music can trigger emotional memories – “some of the more powerful memories that we have,” and are therefore more likely to be recalled. He also notes that music is learnt as “procedural memory,” associated with routines and repetitive activities (also known as muscle memory).
Dementia primarily destroys episodic memory – the type that corresponds to specific events in our lives- but leaves thoseassociated with procedural memory largely intact.
Nial Joyce of Clifden House said: “Life doesn’t have to stop with a dementia diagnosis. Finding stimulating and enjoyable activities that enhance quality of life is not only possible, it’s necessary. At Clifden House, our residents really look forward to our daily singing group, it gives them back a bit of control, and lets them enjoy themselves in a social setting.”
There are now around 200 Singing for the Brain groups across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. They are free and open to anyone who has been diagnosed with dementia.