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Musical activities improve cognitive abilities and memory recall of people with dementia

Musical activities have been shown to improve the cognitive abilities and memory recall of people with dementia Staff in care homes are always looking for new strategies on how to engage with people with dementia. A recent report of people living at 17 care homes run by the Anchor Group has shown that musical activities can improve the cognitive abilities and memory recall of people with dementia. A series of creative workshops held at Anchor care homes in Surrey, have revealed how the innovative adoption of dance, drama and music in care home activities can soothe and stimulate at the same time, bring back memories from the past and help to engage underused but still active areas of the brain. The care home workshops, part of a six-month trial reveals a number of benefits for people living with dementia. The research funded by the older people’s charity Beth Johnson Foundation (BJF), saw the sessions boost residents’ mental health, self-esteem and self-confidence, after they started getting involved in drama, dance and music. Based on the trial’s findings, a report ‘Experiences of Being’ was published by Anchor recommending the use of drama, music and dance in care homes to help those living with dementia. Colin Hann, executive chair of BJF said: "Dementia is an area for more work and creative thinking and this report shows how the arts and drama can make an important positive contribution to those who have dementia. In the longer term let’s also work to find a cure." For six months, Anchor trialed the integration of drama, music and dance workshops into its dementia care, which was attended by 200 care home residents. The sessions saw positive changes in residents, many of whom experienced greater movement and physical exercise through the encouragement of dance or subtle actions using their hands or feet.

'Props act as a stimuli' In one session, while music played, a mixture of scarves, hats, over-sized glasses, wooden spoons and maracas were given to residents to try on, prompting conversations among residents and some role play. The report stated: 'The props acted as stimuli for the residents, with powerful and diverse reactions. The session ended with a ‘goodbye’ song, during which the props were collected and each resident was given a ribbon to wave or use in any way they choose to signify goodbye and thanks.'

'Animated conversations' One 96-year-old resident with dementia had never joined in with her care home's activities but spent all day in her room, even eating her meals there alone. She attended a weekly one-to-one prop box activity, using boxes of beads, pictures and other small items and engaged in gentle hand movements set to music. After attending, staff noticed the resident was enjoying the sessions and “now has animated conversations about her life when she was young – memories triggered by the items in the prop box.” The staff said the workshop has improved her confidence and self-esteem. The One-hour workshop sessions were followed by a feedback and training session for staff at the care homes who gave their own input into how they thought the sessions could be modified.

'Experiences of Being' The success of the sessions has seen participating care homes introduce the workshops to the activities programme. Anchor and BJF hope the results of the 'Experiences of Being' report will encourage everyone working with older people across the UK to consider the innovative use of arts-based activities in the homes of those living with dementia. Jane Ashcroft, chief executive of Anchor, a not-for-profit care provider, said: “We’re keen to embrace innovative ways to enhance the lives of our residents and, with such positive results, this project has been a pleasure to be part of. I hope others learn from the report and are encouraged to introduce similar creative activities.” Actor Linda Marlowe, who played Sylvie Carter a character with dementia in TV soap EastEnders this year, has also welcomed the workshops. To prepare for her acting role, she visited care home residents living with dementia. Ms Marlowe said: “I was there for three days spending time with the residents who had dementia to various degrees. This was invaluable in playing my role in EastEnders. I am now committed to promoting the use of drama and the arts to make a positive difference to help those who are living with dementia”

Summary The report ‘Experiences of Being’ published by Anchor recommending the use of drama, music and dance in care homes to help those living with dementia, is a must read for staff working with people with dementia. Evidence from the workshops shows that the use of music and drama activities may contribute to improvement in the cognitive abilities and memory recall of people with dementia. In addition, the adoption of these activities by other care homes would add an enjoyable experience to staff and residents.

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