There is power in music. Revolutionaries have used music as a platform to convey messages of change, during periods of civil and societal unrest. Protest songs have illustrated realities of war, injustice, civil rights, while artists have used music to record their pain and personal experiences of these times of uncertainty. Music, in all its forms has given hope, invigorated, and touched millions across the world. While we may think of social change firstly in terms of the ‘power of music’ I would like to propose a bigger musical power to you; the magic of music for those living with a dementia.
Many of my happiest memories are often recalled when I hear a song and it takes me back to lying in festival fields, beer in hand and squinting through sunshine watching a band I love. Equally, some songs can remind me of times I have lost relatives and have found comfort in the melodies and verses that eased my pain. For many of us, music provokes emotions and feelings from times passed us by.
It’s good to look at living with a dementia as a journey; each person has their own personal experience of that journey and how it affects them can be very different. The further a person living with dementia travels on their journey the more difficult it becomes to communicate and recall memories. While conversation may fade and words forgotten, the magic of music remains.
Many studies have been carried out on the relationship between music and language and while more recent studies have found that they do depend on some of the same brain systems, they originate in different parts of the brain. Which is why someone living with a dementia may have lost the words to say, but a song from their past can resonate and reanimate within them.
Long at Hatherleigh Nursing Home, Devon have we found that musical occupation or what some medical professionals may call ‘music therapy’, has enabled our family members to reconnect and reminisce with moments of their past. This is not incidental, when we welcome a new member into the Hatherleigh family we learn as much as possible about their life journey.
This learning allows the home to shape the home and find the sounds that fill the air between all the walls. This knowledge determines the radio in the background during mealtimes and which life performers are invited into the home. Music allows members of our family with dementia to express themselves, whether that be through dancing and singing for those who are starting their journey with dementia to movements, humming and tapping for those who are coming towards the end of their journey. Recognising music validates feelings of self-worth, and this validation can help relieve a person from any feelings of anxiety around any confusion they may have. This connection can remind a person who they are and where they have been.
This can be emotionally powerful to witness, particularly in later stage dementia. Seeing the change in someone’s demeanour and behaviour at the sound of a note or beat. The brightness in their eyes, the tapping in time and the humming through smiled lips is a heart melting moment like no other.
While the likes of John Lennon and Bob Marley gave a voice to millions, I guarantee you there is nothing like the overwhelming warmth of seeing a loved one living with dementia invigorated by the sound of their favourite song.
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