Call for more music therapy sessions for dementia patients and carers

People attending a project in Essex reported an increase in mood and memory.

Music therapy to help dementia
Music therapy to help dementia

Academics are pressing for music therapy sessions for people living with dementia to be rolled out around the country.

Weekly music sessions for those living with the disease and their carers were held in Saffron Walden, Essex, as part of a research project by Anglia Ruskin University.

Helen Odell-Miller, director of the university’s Cambridge Institute of Music Therapy Research, said participants in the Together In Sound project’s first year indicated an increase in mood and memory.

Music therapy to help dementia
Lecturer Claire Molyneux (right) holds a music therapy session at the Salvation Army Hall in Saffron Walden, Essex (Roger King/PA)

“Ultimately we would like to see this rolled out,” she said.

Attendees sing together and play musical instruments as a group.

The project is a collaboration with the town’s Saffron Hall concert venue, which provides guest musicians.

Music therapy to help dementia
Those taking part in the sessions reported an increase in mood and memory (Roger King/PA)

Retired colonel Bob Stewart, 81, and his former primary school teacher wife Anne, 82, who live near Saffron Walden, attend the group.

Mr Stewart said his wife of 56 years was diagnosed with dementia while in her 60s and now has “virtually no memory”.

“When we come here and music therapy starts, Anne actually becomes a different person,” he said. “It’s lovely to see her remember things, songs, the music.

“That is therapy for me because Anne can’t do that any more.

“There is no memory, but there is with music, and it’s quite remarkable what it does to her personality over that period of time.

“She laughs, she smiles, she has fun and for a short while she is back several years, and to me that is a therapy in itself.”

Music therapy to help dementia
Bob Stewart and his wife Anne, who has lived with dementia for more than a decade, attend a music therapy session (Joe Giddens/PA)

He said he believes there should be more music therapy sessions, and that it is something which brings him enjoyment.

“My brain is alive from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to sleep,” he said. “I’m not regretting that at all, but my brain is totally concentrating on Anne and not on me, so personal enjoyment is not there really anymore unless there is something we can do together and music therapy I enjoy, Anne does, we can do something together but that is about the only thing we can do together.

“It is as a therapy quite remarkable and I am a huge fan of it.”

Ms Odell-Miller said: “When people have dementia quite often they become confused and their cognitive abilities decline but they can still sing and make music.”

The sessions, which ran in two 10-week blocks in the first year, have funding to run for at least one more year.

The first project was attended by 70 people, comprising 35 couples, and participants were asked to complete a survey.

People with dementia, who completed a rating scale, noted a slight increase in mood and memory, while other aspects including energy, living conditions and physical health were rated as slightly decreased, reflecting an expected progression of their condition.

Initial research findings show that 100% of respondents liked singing and playing instruments together and sharing experiences with others.

The project restarts in October.

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