The sentiment and gratitude expressed in this song by ABBA have been, over the last 10 years, expressed and felt by hundreds of people with dementia, their carers and volunteers throughout Scotland.
They have all been part of singing groups developed and run by trained volunteers. All were based on a model which provided companionship, support and the joy of singing for people with dementia and their carers in an undemanding, warm, dementia friendly environment.
Many of these groups were set up as a result of workshops hosted by FIOP and run by Diana Kerr.
Sadly, and inevitably these groups had to shut down with the onset of the pandemic. At that point most of us did not realise how long the shutdown would last and hoped that perhaps within the year we could get groups going again. This is clearly not going to be the case.
It is important to hang onto the experiences and knowledge gained through the groups and for this to be constantly reiterated until the groups can start again.
So, what is so good about singing for people with dementia?
Well, it is no surprise that singing is good for people living with dementia as singing is good for all of us and that does not go away, in fact in some ways, the benefits increase when someone develops dementia.
As words fail and communication and the ability to connect to others diminishes singing with others becomes not only a way to connect and be part of a group but it becomes an opportunity to communicate, forget worries, get air into the lungs and make your presence felt and heard.
People with dementia who have lost the ability to speak coherently or even at all, will often sing a remembered song, sometimes an entire song. If the words fail people will sometimes hum or whistle a tune.
One of the important aspects of supporting people with dementia is to minimise the impact of their losses and to play to their strengths. If people can sing then we should be encouraging this, helping them maintain the skill and the sense of achievement and joy that goes with that. Singing can release the anxiety and tension that many people with dementia feel and so free them up to enjoy the moment. The following story from one of the groups is a good illustration of this:-
‘William, a new member, was withdrawn and did not engage with anyone during the session, he
did not respond to any of the songs. Then the pianist started playing a well-known Scottish ballad
William sat up and started to sing- he sang the whole song, pitch perfect, the whole group
stopped singing to listen to him. He completed his performance with a huge smile. The whole
group broke out in applause’.
We know that singing makes people happy. Even if the person with dementia forgets that they were singing soon after the event this does not negate its worth. They will still feel good even if they cannot remember why. People with dementia live much in the moment so we should be trying to make as many moments, as possible, good ones and singing undoubtedly achieves this.
Songs that encourage actions, swaying or even dancing mean that people with dementia get to move and use their bodies, a further tension release and a joy. The following story illustrates this beyond doubt:-
‘Peter was very confused and distant. We played a “walking” song that must have meant something special to him and his wife, they danced together. They stayed on the floor after the song had finished talking, laughing and kissing and everyone else sat down. We all just waited in silence for them to finish. – reluctant to break the moment.’
Let’s hope it is not too long before we can get the groups up and running (and singing) again.
Dementia Consultant, Author and Singing Group Leader