Reminiscence through a Song For Life

A Neurologic Music Therapist at Chiltern Music Therapy recently used our brand new initiative - the Song for Life card - at a regular Leicestershire Community Group. These sessions are held for older adults with dementia, Parkinson’s and other age-related illnesses, people with suspected dementia or awaiting referrals, as well as their carers. We also welcome members of the community who have lost a partner to one of these illnesses and are experiencing social isolation and loneliness. 

The aim of this community group is to support the participants memory and reminiscence through music, reducing social isolation, improving mood, lessening anxiety and agitation and providing cognitive stimulation and challenges through music. The Song for Life initiative was a great tool for this type of group session as it encouraged discussion and stimulated memory in some of the participants. Using this tool as part of a group activity did mean that there was slightly less time for reflection than in a one-to-one setting. So to combat this, the therapist emailed the group attendees the previous day explaining the activity and gave them the opportunity to reflect on any songs that were important to them before coming to the session.  

On arrival, the therapist handed out her printed Song for Life cards to the group and asked them leading questions such as:

  • What a song for life might mean to somebody
  • What examples are there of times in life where music might be particularly important to someone?

She also offered some suggestions for what others have chosen for their Song for Life. They were then given five minutes to think about their song and during that time many of the attendees took the opportunity to discuss their ideas with each other. Everyone then had the opportunity to discuss their song and tell their story if they wanted to. That was special in itself as some people found it quite difficult to think of a song but others knew exactly what their choice would be. This was helpful for those who weren’t quite as sure or whose memory of music wasn’t as good as others.

The participants that were present with dementia weren’t quite as engaged with the task, but if they were unable to think of a song, the therapist worked with their family member to think of one. Music Therapists are trained to navigate sensitive situations to ensure everyone feels heard and included. Even though some of the participants with dementia struggled to remember key songs, it’s important for the therapist to speak with them directly, giving them as many prompts as possible and really encouraging them before they ask for the family member’s input. Another helpful tip is to not have any background music during this session, as it might be distracting, cause an unconscious bias with choices or overstimulate the participants.

One of the attendees, 92-year-old “G”, had cared for his wife for many years whilst she had dementia but she sadly died a few years ago. He continues to come to the group on his own so that he can stay engaged and spend time with others. G chose a hymn as his Song for Life as it makes him feel close to his late wife. They met at church when they were teenagers, married soon after, and would often take road trips together throughout their 70 year marriage. When they arrived at their destination, they would look at the beautiful surroundings and the scenery, and would literally burst into song. He shared a verse of the song with the group and this lovely memory. 

Another husband who attends with his wife who has dementia chose a song for her. This discussion prompted the memory that they used to see this band in the 80s and really liked them. He said that he didn’t think she would have thought of that song on her own, independently. So the Song for Life exercise helped stimulate that reminiscence and memory with the help of the husband and the therapist.  

If you're a Music Therapist, find out more about our Song for Life initiative!

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