Time and time again I hear how music, art or nature resonate with people who have dementia, opening up worlds which seemed closed. Dementia may have been overshadowed by the coronavirus pandemic, which has once again delayed proposed care reforms. But it has not gone away. Instead it has gone on spiralling.
Next week, 21st September marks #WorldAlzheimersDay. While Alzheimer’s disease is only one form of dementia (a group of over 100 illnesses), it is maybe the most widely known. It was first fully described by Alois Alzheimer in 1907, over a century ago.
Every year World Alzheimer’s Day has a different theme, and this year’s theme is stigma. Awareness of dementia may be growing but stigma still surrounds these diseases. People diagnosed with dementia may struggle with shame while people around them may struggle to interact with them as they used to do. Sharing music, art and nature within communities creates common ground which helps people with dementia and people without dementia to relate to one another: this could be one way to reduce stigma. As people spend time together and share experiences where dementia is less of a barrier, stigma loses its power to isolate those living with a dementia diagnosis. And as dementia progresses and someone’s cognition declines so that conversation becomes difficult or impossible, music, nature or art could become a way to connect.
Crucial to reaching people who have dementia through music is the memory bump. Research has found that people are most likely to remember and respond to music they first heard during their memory bump years – from their teens to early thirties. So trying to reawaken failing memory through songs and music needs to reflect age and generation. I was talking with someone recently who was saying that they hope they won’t have to sing wartime songs when they move into a care home: this is someone born in the early 60s, who likes 80s music.
Dementia forces people to live in the moment more than ever before. Memories of the past may become confused and the future is unknown, but you might still respond to the present moment. Connecting with nature is all about living in the moment for any of us, as so many encounters with wildlife are fleeting: a glimpse of a bird darting by, or a moth in lamplight.
Painting might allow someone who has dementia to express themselves as spoken language deteriorates. Even just watching, helping, using colours, could prove worthwhile. What is possible will depend on the rate at which the dementia progresses or the person’s existing experience of music or art. Some people are still able to play an instrument they learned years earlier.
So this #WorldAlzheimersDay could be an opportunity to rekindle memory through music or to interact through art or nature, and lessen the stigma of living with dementia. Could you share your ideas or experiences on the Medley forum? Just go to https://medley.forumotion.com Thank you.