I have always played music. It’s an important part of my life. Whether it’s doing a ceilidh for someone’s wedding at a boutique hotel, playing in church of a Sunday morning, or jamming with my ‘old guys’ band in some subterranean club in the city centre, I love it.
It was therefore no surprise to me when the evidence began to emerge of the impact of music (and singing in particular) on people living with dementia.
The first time I became aware of this in the public domain was Sally Magnusson’s Playlist for Life initiative a few years back (https://www.playlistforlife.org.uk/). More recently, Music for Dementia 2020 has made a commitment to make music available to all those living with dementia by 2020 (http://www.musicfordementia2020.com/). A number of singing groups and choirs have been established to provide an integrated and inclusive experience for people living with dementia. These range from Diana Kerr (dementia consultant and author) singing groups across Scotland (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Singing-Groups-People-Dementia-Diana/dp/1909300950), to the Life Changes Trust’s creation of a network of dementia inclusive choirs(https://www.lifechangestrust.org.uk/news/news-funding-hits-all-right-notes-scotland-wide-dementia-friendly-choir-network). It seems everyone is doing it!
It doesn’t take much of a leap of faith to begin to understand music as a core component of spirituality. If you subscribe to the following kind of definition, it makes sense. ‘Spiritual care acknowledges the presence and importance of such things as joy, hope, meaning and purpose as well as the reality of disease, suffering, disappointment and death.’
Last year I undertook a research study for FiOP, funded by the Life Changes Trust, which explored the nature of spiritual care for people living with dementia in care homes. I spoke with residents as well as family members and care home staff. We asked a simple but important question: ‘what raises the spirits of people living with dementia in care homes?’ I was told numerous stories of folk who were quite literally transformed by the power of music, enabling them to draw on deep wells of memory, to re-create community, and to connect with others – even when this ability was thought to be long gone.
One of the recommendations of the research study was to support local churches to ‘adopt a care home’. This could mean a relatively traditional programme of ‘religious’ activities (nothing wrong with that). However, why not consider offering time, skills, and enthusiasm in bringing live music into the care home – whether playing Daniel O’Donnell, the Rolling Stones, or indeed the Sex Pistols (as one resident hoped).
The life changing power of music was summed up by Shinichi Suzuki, the great Japanese music teacher, philosopher, and educator. “Teaching music is not my main purpose. I want to make good citizens. If children hear fine music from the day of their birth and learn to play it, they develop sensitivity, discipline and endurance. They get a beautiful heart”.
Wouldn’t it be fine if all care home residents were given the gift of beautiful hearts?
Simon Jaquet Consultancy Services Ltd
The research report ‘De-mystifying spiritual care – an exploration of the spiritual care of people living with dementia in care homes’ is available at https://www.lifechangestrust.org.uk/node/645 and will shortly be available in hard copy from FiOP.