Early in 2012 LMN musicians, ‘Interlude,’ delivered 10 weekly interactive, creative music sessions for a group of older people, most with dementia, at a care home in North London. The aim was to improve the wellbeing of residents through engagement with music.
Relatives were included in sessions wherever possible and staff encouraged to know the residents better as their musical knowledge, talents, preferences, reminiscences and pleasure in the music emerged. The longer-term impact of this project is to show that music sessions can make a vital contribution to the care of older people with dementia and should become an integral part of care-plans. Performances are most effective when staff are actively involved and can assist residents, offering valuable points of connection with older people for whom communication is difficult. One week the session was filmed and the DVD is now watched regularly by residents, who enjoy seeing themselves featured!
“Daire had a lovely moment with Mary (who has paralysis on her left side) during ‘She moved through the fair’ – they held hands and sang to each other. Afterwards Mary thanked Daire for reminding her that she had at least one hand that still worked as she had at first refused the contact”. Evaluator
Feedback from John Bacon, one of the musicians who delivered the project:
- Inviting family and friends to attend the concerts and the excitement and pride expressed by residents that this is a concert for them and that their suggestions help to form the programme.
- Helena , an Irish resident who rarely lifted her head and didn’t engage with other or us for the first 3 weeks, expressed on the fourth week how much it meant to her to hear Irish songs being enjoyed by everyone. She now regularly relays stories, but one of the highlights was hearing of her husband singing around the house and with the children and how much it means to her to have live singing back in her life.
- Maria, an Italian resident who chose to sit in the corner when we started the sessions, now sits beside the piano and relishes the opportunity to comment on my Italian diction. The other residents also turn to her for an assessment of the Italian songs.
- Watching a room transform from a quiet group of individuals to an excited and engaged group of people with a shared thought-provoking experience. Each week we walk into a relatively quiet room and when we leave it is a vibrant collection of conversations. They are not always happy memories or dialogues, but they are stimulating and this continues throughout the week. Margaret, a Scottish resident who is new to Cheverton, has told us of how she talks to others about the music and how much it has helped her transition.
Story-telling and generational connection
- The wealth of stories associated to particular songs that surface during and after a session is amazing. Edith and Emily, sisters in their 90’s, spoke at length about their garden growing up and all the herbal remedies that their mother used to make. This all stemmed from hearing the “aria about trees” Where e’er you walk, cool gales shall fan the glade, trees where you sit… by Handel. Witnessing the joy with which they spoke and the fact that stories they were relating were engaging to someone younger, was fantastic.
- Watching Mary, a rather reserved Irish woman, giggling while I sing Schubert’s An Silvia to her could bring a tear to the eye of the most stalwart person. Or seeing Thomas, a rather grumpy gentleman, who was described by other residents as angry and moody, actually smile as we performed ‘O sole mio’ to him, is incredible. Thomas is a rock drummer and has attended every week. When asked about the fact that it is predominantly classical music, he said it doesn’t matter as it is ‘quality live music.’
- Helen, the pianist on this project, first spoke to Emily (a resident who played honky tonk piano when she was younger) when she noticed her fingers moving during a Debussy solo piece. The following week, Helen chose to play Joplin’s ‘Maple Leaf Rag’ and the amount of stories and conversation this piece stimulated was phenomenal. You could hear dancing stories being told everywhere in the room and Dorothy got up to dance which caused a number of residents to start cheering her on.
- Doug a cornet and brass player is one of the most vocal residents. He always contributes improvised musical phrases and whenever I approach, he mouths along word for word with such a passionate and engaged expression.
- Maisy an English resident in her 90’s is one of the most dramatic individuals when she recognizes a song. She sings with incredible vigour and the other residents regularly say that she’s giving us a run-for-our-money or she’ll put us out of a job.
Sense of occasion
- We have noticed over the weeks how the residents have changed what they wear to the sessions. The first week, people were wearing mostly casual, comfortable clothing with a number in track suits and t-shirts. As the weeks passed, more and more people started wearing vibrant colours, beautiful jewellery and make-up.
Opportunities such as these afford musicians the opportunity to associate stories with the songs. We are essentially story tellers and when we leave college we have the technical tools, but lack the experience. Performing and engaging with such a knowledgeable and experienced group of people also helps the performers to connect directly with an individual. This is a rare opportunity for a musician and you garner so much from it whether it be one-to-one feedback, emotional commitment, personal tales and a direct historical connection.