A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease or any other dementia-type illness is the last thing to make anyone want to sing, whether they are the patient or a relative or friend. So why on earth is there a movement aimed at getting such patients and their friends and carers on their feet and singing their hearts out? Let’s take a look.
What is ‘Singing for the Brain’?
‘Singing for the Brain’ is a social group, available in over thirty places around the UK including some dementia care homes in Minehead, at which patients with dementia and their friends, family members and carers are welcome. Each session is centred around music, primarily singing.
What is the Point of ‘Singing for the Brain’?
‘Singing for the Brain’ came about through various pieces of research and observation by those with an interest in dementia-type illnesses. Carers noticed that patients who often forgot their own names could sing along – word perfect – with songs that they knew well in their youth. Researchers found that music works in parts of the brain that are unaffected by dementia. Putting the two together helped organisers realise that encouraging Alzheimer’s and dementia sufferers to enjoy music as part of their treatment – and just for enjoyment too – was an excellent idea.
Is There Really Any Benefit to Music for Dementia Sufferers?
Yes, absolutely! A former-church organist was in a very bad way – almost vegetative – and her carers were very worried about her. Having spoken to the lady’s family and learned about her organ-playing days, one carer, who had a beautiful voice, went to stand by the piano and sang, without accompaniment, a hymn. Within a few moments – almost like Sleeping Beauty receiving that awakening kiss – the organist seemed to come back to herself, pushed her sleeves up and seated herself at the piano, picking up the hymn and playing along with the singer, absolutely note perfect. Another example is that of Glen Campbell whose struggle with Alzheimer’s was well known – and even acknowledged by the man himself early on after the disease began to take hold with his heart-breaking song, ‘Not Gonna Miss You’. Towards the end of his life, when Glen was mostly under the influence of the condition, someone – possibly a family member – placed one of his beloved (and by now, long-unplayed) guitars in his hands. His old, gnarled hands strayed over the smooth wood, thrumming over the strings. A pause. Then Glen Campbell began to play through some of his favourite songs – and again, it was all perfect, just as though he was still performing. Music and Magic, as words, are not so very distant. And when it comes to dementia-type diseases, perhaps they are even closer than they seem…
‘Singing for the Brain’ is organised by the Alzheimer’s Society – if you have a patient who you think might benefit from a good old-fashioned singsong (and even if they won’t, but you might!) bring them along and dust off those vocal chords – it can do everyone a lot of good.