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Manchester music project that is helping people with dementia to find their voice

It has long been known that music can bring benefits to people with dementia. So, it came as no surprise to learn that a Manchester orchestra has taken its care home music sessions online, as staff and families sing the benefits for memory and wellbeing. Fay Wertheimer is a writer, musician-manager of a flute and strings quintet, retired special needs teacher and volunteer who has reported on the Manchester Camerata Orchestra Music in Mind Project.

Until March, the Manchester Camerata Orchestra had been bringing music, improvisation and joy into the lives and hearts of care home residents, including those with dementia, via its award-winning Music in Mind project for eight years. Its nine musicians and two music therapists had delivered 15 weekly sessions in 20 local residential homes. Then COVID-19 struck, followed by lockdown, and Music in Mind stopped, much to the dismay of everyone involved, including the 300 participating residents. But the Camerata is now piloting a remote resource offering backing tracks, Zoom feedback, extra activities and mentoring, so care staff can continue the vital, interactive work in line with CQC policies and procedures.

Karen Sykes is the activities’ co-ordinator at one of the eight care homes piloting MiM remote. It has allowed her to keep up the music twice weekly on her own at Cleggsworth House in Littleborough, Rochdale. She enhances some of the residents’ experience with her new, self-taught ukulele skills. For Sykes, the remote platform and online weekly support are a blessing.

“This package has come at the right time. I had run out of ideas. Some residents were deteriorating. But now, using MiM percussion instruments we can accompany the Camerata’s recordings – their jigs, rock’n’roll and tangos. Everyone’s spirits, including mine, have been lifted. Whenever a face lights up, whenever someone who rarely gets involved joins in the music, when families say we’ve improved the quality of life of their loved one, the feeling we get is unbelievable,” says Sykes.

Its not just about memory loss but the enjoyment of music

One daughter with both parents in the care home attributes not only their wellbeing but also her own to MiM. “It’s not just a matter of mental stimulation for people with memory loss, but their enjoyment of the music and giving some purpose to the day that is so uplifting,” she explains. When her mother died recently, she says family and friends collected money for musical instruments “so residents still have something musical in her memory”.

Each of the home’s activity leaders is adapting policies and procedures for supported living from the remote MiM project to their own capabilities in-house and then checking in online for live feedback and advice. Some sessions are one-to-one in the residents own room, but where permissible, socially distanced sessions for up to 10 people are still set up in the round in a lounge. These are topped and tailed with the familiar Hello and Goodbye songs that participants, therapists and musicians co-created before Covid.

Improving the confidence of care staff

Taking responsibility for musical activities has improved the confidence of care staff. One care worker says, “We were sceptical at first but it’s been a learning experience, a team effort. Tuesday morning is now for music making.”

Obviously, care workers do not possess the artistic prowess of professional therapists and academy-trained musicians. But MiM is neither about performance, nor entertainment, nor about endless practice to hone one’s technical skills. It’s about “the moment” – the “magic” moment when improvisation takes over, say the musicians and therapists.

Swan Lake music video

A Swan lake music video (Emotional) is available that captures how a former ballet dancer reacts to the Swan Lake music.

For anyone who has seen the video of a former ballerina with Alzheimer’s that went viral last week, the role of music in memory is clear. It’s about its power; the power of music to stimulate those with dementia into sensing the presence of others and then feel spurred to react. Response to the music – be it a sound, a finger tap, a nod, a song, a wave, a smile, a shout or a dance – is participation. Quick to spot any stirring, the therapist takes the lead. The musician present – the horn player, percussionist, cellist, tuba player, flautist or the pianist – takes that response forward and encourages others in the circle to follow.

Music can be a lifeline

Bob Riley, the CEO of Camerata, says: “Music in Mind is about making a difference where it’s needed most – with carers and in care homes. The musical and human skills of our region’s fantastic musicians have made this all possible.”

The project’s strength lies in its instant impact on those with dementia. With many care homes closed to visitors during lockdown, residents have been deprived of family contact, so music can be a lifeline.

Summary

Music in Mind is a great initiative that is bringing the benefits of music to people with dementia. It is another fine example of how the skills of the wider community can be harnessed and enjoyed by people who live in care homes and increase the confidence of staff.

Albert Cook BA, MA & Fellow Charted Quality Institute Managing Director Bettal Quality Consultancy

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