Dementia is an umbrella term for a group of symptoms that have a negative effect on memory. It is estimated to affect over 850,000 in the UK alone. In the last few years, studies have been carried out which show that, even though dementia affects the parts of the brain that process language, when people with dementia take part in singing they can still recall songs and associated memories – even from their childhood.
So why does this happen?
The processing of music is distributed throughout the brain, rather than just being located in one area like language. It’s a network that connects up feeling, visual and bodily memory, movement, and other areas of the brain. Brain lesions can totally knock out the language function, yet patients who can’t speak at all can still sing.
Maybe you’re lucky enough to have had the experience of an earworm? (Or unlucky enough, if it was “Barbie Girl”!) Music has a life of its own in our brains, which in some cases bypasses linguistic-cognitive processing.
When we listen to music, we “understand” in a different way – the rhythms and melodies become part of who we are, for that time we participate through singing and dance – sometimes even if we didn’t agree to!
Even as early as the 1960s, Kitty Styles, a music therapist in the USA, found that there are certain types of rhythms and melodies that help give people with Parkinson’s an ease and flow in their bodies. Other rhythms, however, which were too dominating, produced a jerky effect and were not helpful at all.
Over the next three years The Brain Charity is going to be running workshops, which will activate the links between music and the brain even further, to try to find the best dance moves and songs to help activate memory retention.
The workshops will be an innovative new form of music-based therapy sessions for people with dementia and their carers. One group of workshops will couple the skills of a neuro-physiotherapist, who’ll help to maintain cognitive function, with a dancer; the other will pair a speech and language therapist with a singer.
We are working with Merseyside Dance Initiative and Music in Mind, two Liverpool based performing arts organisations who also have a lot of experience in running classes for people with dementia, to get those feet tapping and voices belting.
So how did this vibrant opportunity come about?
The Brain Charity is pleased to announce that it has been awarded £150,000 by Quilter Cheviot as part of its ongoing Dementia Initiative. £50,000 will be provided to The Brain Charity every year for three years, and this will be used to deliver the 12 week courses.
Quilter Cheviot is an investment firm which is committed to raising awareness about dementia. The average age of Quilter Cheviot’s clients is 64, and the firm is aware of the issues and challenges that may arise along a dementia journey. That is why they have already trained 19 Dementia Champions across their regional office network. These Champions now act as experts and train other employees to better understand the challenges of living with dementia. Up to now, 80% of client-facing employees at Quilter Cheviot have been trained in understanding dementia and can recognise some of the common signs of the condition.
Mark Macleod, Chief Financial Officer at Quilter Cheviot and chair of the firm’s dementia panel, says: “We are delighted to support The Brain Charity. The panel members and I truly believe that their innovative methods will continue to help people with dementia as well as ease pressure on both social care and health services.”
Next dance steps
Nanette Mellor, Chief Executive Officer at The Brain Charity, is looking forward to putting this award to extremely good use: “We are absolutely thrilled to have been awarded this funding by Quilter Cheviot. Research has shown that listening to music and its therapeutic properties has a number of positive effects which include delayed cognitive deterioration, improved mood, physical fitness and social interaction.”
The workshops will be a fun mix of therapy, creativity and a warm, welcoming atmosphere. They run in 12 week blocks, with up to 15 people in each session. We expect the places to fill up quickly, so if you are interested, or you know of someone who might be, pass the news along!