Thursday, 8 May 2014

Singing and dementia

It's well established now that music can have an affect on people with dementia.   

A few years ago I witnessed this first hand when we played in some Alzheimer's wards of local hospitals during Bealtaine Festival.  

People who were motionless and silent gradually came to life and sang along to the old songs that we were singing from their childhood.  

One woman sang from the very first chord we played right through until the last note - we thought she was perfectly ok, but the nurse sitting with her told us afterwards that she hadn't spoken a word in more than 6 months and no longer recognised her children or grandchildren.  Yet the songs from her young day were there as an automatic response.  
I was both delighted and really saddened.   

It was an amazing gift she gave us to allow us in to her life for a few moments.  



I'm always ranting on that everyone can sing - just open your mouth, throw back your head and let whatever noise comes out just happen - you'll feel better for it.   This video proves my point .... it just makes my heart sing.

Taken from an inspiring documentary made a few years back pointing out the loneliness of our senior citizens in old peoples homes.  The documentary is inspiring to say the least ... all links are under the video on You Tube - take a look if you have time.

Last night we played to a full house in Blanchardstown in Dublin - lots of seniors groups in the audience and a good night was had by all :)

12 comments:

  1. I love this post and share your feelings about the importance and persistence of music for people with dementia. My mother, who has Alzheimer's Disease, remembers the words of old songs, even ones which I don't remember her singing to me as a child. I love singing with her, either live at group sings, or at home, reading the words from a songbook (Rise Up Singing--do you know it?) or singing along with a recording on You Tube. Loved the performance of My Generation! The group is very like a terrific one in our area, the Young at Heart chorus. If you get a chance, check out the documentary made on them called Young at heart. Thanks again for a moving and important post.
    P.S. I'm in the United States, in Massachusetts.

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    1. I love the Rise up Singing book Josna - I use it for ideas for my community choir.
      It's great that your mum wants to keep singing - that's a lovely bond to have together. And I'll check out the Young at Heart chorus. Massachussetts has so much great music going on … I was there a few years ago and the amount of folk music was exhilarating.

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  2. Don't sing but we do enjoy lots of music. Particularly classical

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  3. What a very moving story you have told and a wonderful video, Fil (although I'm glad I watched to the very end before showing it in an assembly!!) I think your post has highlighted a possible need in our local school community for a sing-a-long concert we could invite the elderly along to. It would be fun for the children to learn some of the older songs and maybe allow some of the more vulnerable and lonely OAPs to engage with the outside world and the younger generation.

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    1. I'm so sorry Senco :) I know I should have warned about the ending of the video !!!! It shocked me when I spotted it but I couldn't help laughing as well :) But you could fade it out before the end …

      There are lots of songs - and I'll take your suggestion and do a post over the weekend with ideas for songs and some links to groups over your way where you can get some more idea.

      I think it would be wonderful to do something with the children and the seniors together. My mum and her friends go to the primary school nativity play and concerts and funding raising fairs every year and they know all the wee ones in the area and it keeps them so much better connected.

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  4. Whoops - forgot to ask - could you possibly recommend any "old" songs that appeared to be a big hit with your elderly audiences? Many thanks - don't know if you were thinking to do this in a follow up post anyway?

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  5. My Mom has Alzheimer's and everyday I watch her break into singing songs of her youth that we used to sing when we were kids growing up there were ten of us kids and my Mom would sing with us everyday. She smiles and knows every word. I know music works miracles with this disease that robs people and their families of the person they love. MUSIC is the key. B

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    1. It must be heartbreaking when a parent has this awful disease, but what a gift for you that you can still sing together …. I always envied kids from big families:)

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  6. HI Fil - music and singing and smiling seem to be the things that engage - at least something does .. love this story ... and you've set it out for us so well - cheers Hilary

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  7. Thank you all for your lovely comments … I was a bit nervous at first about putting up this post but I'm glad I did.

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  8. Music is magic. My grandson who has autism, loves Mozart and I understand that hearing is the last sense to leave us.

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  9. I heard a remarkable story on dementia and singing on National Public Radio (WNPR) it was very moving, as is your post on this topic. My current novel centers on singing and voice. I love your blog's focus around music.

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