On A Different Note

Yes, music’s impact on dementia is well known, and there are many different initiatives and opportunities. But there’s also growing need and demand as dementia becomes ever more common, and here I’m thinking about some different ways of sharing music and sound, and how these could impact people in diverse ways.

Photo by Skylar Kang on Pexels.com

Three possibilities stand out. I know some people find it helpful to experiment with playing an instrument, rather than listening, particularly in the early or middle stages of dementia. This specific area could develop. Musical instruments tend to be expensive, and someone new to music might have no idea which to try. Subsidised instruments would be great, as well as support and guidance on which to try, which might be most suited to improvisation – maybe percussion or keyboard. This could open up new opportunities and enable active music-making which could be empowering.

The second area which stands out is the need to find imaginative ways to share music with people who have dementia and are housebound. So much music for dementia focuses on care homes (inevitably there are more opportunities here as they are organized group settings) or day centres or groups like the Singing For The Brain groups run by Alzheimer’s Society. But many people who have dementia live in their own or their families’ homes, and are largely or entirely housebound. When they – and their family carers – struggle their way though each day’s routine tasks, getting to experience music could seem unimportant or irrelevant and a sideshow. But it is far from that. There are now more opportunities to enjoy music at home through technology, with streamed performances. There are also tools like the BBC Music Memories web app, a great way to locate music from a particular era, maybe when the person who has dementia was young, and BBC Memory Radio. More such initiatives would help. And as more events and groups return to being in-person now that Covid has moved to a new phase, it’s so important that virtual, online and streamed alternatives continue as well. It’s also good to highlight how listening at home can even be more positive, as it’s more flexible in time and taste – we all have strong likes and dislikes and music is very personal.

Nor should we assume that every person who has dementia will want to listen to music, all or even any of the time. Silence can be important as well, and some people may find music too loud or distressing. Listening to sounds of the natural world can also be very helpful as an alternative, such as recorded birdsong, a waterfall or waves on a seashore. It would be great if online recorded sounds were more widely known and shared with this use in mind.

There are so many different impacts music and song can and do have. I’ve only highlighted three specific areas – support to play an instrument, more specific opportunities for people who are housebound, and a flexible focus covering natural sound as well as music. You may have thoughts on these, or other ideas – it would be great to hear any responses in Medley’s Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/359291215486002

Published by medleyisobel

My name is Isobel and I run Medley, an online initiative sharing art, nature and music for health and wellbeing.

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