For World Alzheimer's Awareness month we wanted to shine a light on the work that our Music Therapists do to support those who have the condition and their loved ones.
We spoke to our Music Therapist, Vicky who gave us an insight into the work that she does in this area. We hope you find it interesting!
My name is Vicky and I’ve been working as a music therapist since 2017. I did placements that involved working with people living with dementia in both my years of music therapy training. When I qualified I did half a day a week in a care home which then grew to working four days a week for a care home group across four of their homes. I also do a day a week for Chiltern Music Therapy at Adderley Green in Gladstone House which provides care packages for residents over the age of 65 with neuro progressive conditions, dementia and associated behaviours.
I do a combination of group work and 1:1 work. Every day features an open group where anyone in the home or on the suite is invited to join. The 1:1 sessions tend to then be for those residents who find accessing the music therapy groups difficult or perhaps need a more individualised approach.
I use a mixture of singing, listening to music, playing instruments and verbal exchange in the sessions. It very much depends on the needs of the person I’m working with. There is usually a heavy focus on either listening to or singing along to familiar and meaningful songs. This might lead to conversations around the memories the music evokes and reminiscence work.
Engaging with music, whether that be singing, listening to music or playing an instrument engages many parts of the brain. This means it can help to bypass any damaged parts of the brain. Music therapy sessions can utilise this and help to improve mood and reduce experiences of anxiety or distress. They can provide a space for the person living with dementia to express themselves and connect with another person.
I love the moment where I feel like I’ve made a connection with someone, whether that’s because they smile, join in with music-making or share a particular memory with me. I’ve learnt so much from the people I’ve worked with over the years. Working in this field can really highlight that age is just a number. I’ve worked with someone who was 101 and still singing and dancing with the energy of a 20 year old! I’ve had fascinating conversations with a resident who was a radio operator on the Wellington Bomber during the Normandy Campaign. Having said that, I may also work with someone whose communication has been severely impacted but I can play a piece of music that is special to them and they make eye contact and smile.
I love it when I can see I’ve made a difference to a person’s daily care in the home, beyond the music therapy session. I used to work with a lady who started to struggle to get out of bed in the morning and was feeling low in mood. She absolutely loved music by John Rutter and had some very fond memories of a time he visited her choir. I suggested to the care staff that her John Rutter CD be offered to her whilst she was waking up in the morning. Quite often it was just the mention of John Rutter that would put a smile on her face and she would then enjoy a cup of tea in bed listening to his music and set her day up in a much more positive way. It’s moments like these that made me proud of the work that I do.
This completely varies. In one home, "Que Sera Sera" is a huge hit with the residents whereas in another home there is a group of gentlemen who love belting out "Danny Boy". I still find the older songs are requested such as "You are my sunshine" but am also seeing much more interest in later music from the 60s and 70s.
Creating an individualised playlist can be a great way of stimulating conversation about musical preferences and triggering memories. There are some great resources out there to get you started such as BBC Music Memories and Playlist for Life. There are also some free online radio stations such as m4d radio and radio reminisce which have been created with people living with dementia in mind. Music for dementia is a great website with lots of tips and resources to explore.
Inspiring, rewarding and fun!