Tell us here about your experiences with your own loved one or someone you’re caring for. This is your space to share what it’s like.
MUSIC, MEMORY, DANCE – SNAPSHOTS OF IMPRESSIONS FROM A VISIT TO A GROUP OF PEOPLE WITH DEMENTIA
Enjoying the moment of music and friendship.
Many of us nowadays will live long enough to experience the challenge of caring for others, or to ourselves experience memory loss. Music can lift us up, draw us back to happier times and create an atmosphere of joy and relaxation., to enable us to cope with the reality of deteriorating health.
Enjoying food, music, dancing and friendship becomes the focal point of the week for those fortunate enough to attend day care and voluntary groups, offering access to live musicians in a therapeutic environment.
One woman who was widowed in her 30s, bringing up children on her own, now as an elder, enjoying the opportunity to socialise. A mute woman during the week, coming to life during the music and singing. Another passionate about her dancing, forgetting her walking stick and able to join in, supported by others on the dance floor. Tapping along to ‘live’ music, table flowers, napkins, carers attentive to individual needs.
The people joining in today tell me that being here means they are never lonely, that they enjoy themselves and that being here makes them happy.
So many families are affected by memory challenges. People’s memories of their work, family, friends, displaced from home towns, loved ones, isolated in flats on their own. The time to be happy is now.
The sound of the Black & White Sergeant, our Pianist dressed in Black Watch tartan. Fingers tapping, hands clapping, feet dancing, as people beat time in their seats. The audience are enraptured, smiling, at ease, engaged.
Lips mouthing familiar words, singing along, smiling, clapping, one lady, who has had a stroke unable to communicate clearly, chair dancing.
Doesn’t matter that they cannot remember what they had for lunch. They enjoy the moment, the music and socialise. People can look well yet in fact be very ill. Dancing lady, nifty footwork, back to her seat where her walking stick is propped against the chair.
Here is care in the community with people who enjoy an afternoon of lunch, music and company and companionship at the Centre. So fabulous and inspiring to be here. Ball throwing, remembering to help with memory checks, on appearance. Woman tells me she enjoys it here and that her family is happy she comes as she is so hard to please. Ball play encourages concentration and attention and fun. Smiles all round.
Big smiles, folk enjoying the jokes, audience trying to interact. Lady in red, age 90, knows all the words.
The power of music to entertain, to allow escapism, freedom from the moment, from pain, from temporary troubles.
People living in the moment, expressing themselves, enjoying life. We only have today. Our health, friends, family, love, work.
Magazines, dominoes, planting bulbs, tidying up, Molly the dog, wind up, wind down , carers, helpers, retired, giving back what they know, people choosing what they do, what they participate in.
For local resources contact The Social Work Department
Johnnie Riddoch sadly passed away aged 89 on the 16th August 2016 at Ward 5, Queen Margaret Hospital, Dunfermline.
Johnnie had been a schoolteacher for over 30 years and decided to retire back in 1988. He was diagnosed with dementia back in 2012, which was controlled with medication giving him as normal a life as possible.
In May 2016 he was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer which was a hurdle that would not be overcome and led to his death in August of that year.
The final weeks of Johnnie’s life were spent in the Victoria Hospital, Kirkcaldy, and Queen Margaret Hospital, Dunfermline, where he received the best of care and support.
Those final weeks were filled with fun and laughter. Many a sing song was had in the ward, often with the rest of the ward joining in. His sense of humour never deserted him, and the nurses loved his cheeky one liners.
Some of the nurses and other visitors remembered Johnnie as “Mr Riddoch” from his time as a teacher at Ballingry High School and his prowess with the “Lochgelly Tawse” or the Belt as it was better known!
Johnnie also spent many a happy hour while in hospital looking at photographs and video footage of old Aberdeen – it was interesting and entertaining to listen as he vividly recalled the places the stories and the history of his beloved Aberdeen.
While in Ward 5 at the Queen Margaret Hospital, Johnnie was selected to take part in a music therapy project run by Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU). The family were introduced to Anna Paisley, a PhD student at GCU, who explained what was involved and the potential benefits from taking part.
Johnnie selected his own playlist of his favourite songs which were uploaded to an iPod for him by Anna. He was then able to enjoy his favourite north east music in the ward.
He was the first person to participate in the trial whilst under care of the NHS as it had already been rolled out across care homes for the elderly with dementia. It is hoped that this therapy can be rolled out in hospitals across Scotland.
The family took great comfort from being asked to partake in this project by Playlist for Life. Along with the ward nurses we managed to sit through the 4 sessions required for him to complete the music study.
He loved listening to the music and felt it was very uplifting and comforting and had a soothing effect on him sometimes when he was a bit agitated.
We really appreciate the opportunity that my dad had to partake in this much worthwhile project and wish you all the best in the future.
Our beloved mother died from Vascular Dementia/Alzheimers in January of this year aged 90.
She was in a care home for her last 3 years and loved to sing old songs from the war period i.e. When the Red Red Robin, Run Rabbit etc. She would sing along with us when we were together.
We took her back to her own home every Saturday for dinner and a get together which she loved dearly and it was as if she had never left her home.
We have many stories we could tell but these were some of our favourite moments. Sally’s story in the Daily Record is inspirational. Thank you.
On a Tuesday night I take my mum to the sing-along. We sing songs based on what the theme is that week e.g. weather, colour, or just our favourite songs. This little room is full of energy and we all sing our hearts out.
It is run by a group of people who volunteer their time to share their music and voices. We have Liz or Janet on keyboards and Bob on guitar and mouth organ. We all play a part when Janet gives us an orchestral piece to play, and it really lifts my mum’s mood and mine as her full time carer.
It’s 45 minutes of pleasure – I feel I get my mum back for the time I am in that room singing with her, and there’s lots of laughter in the room.
As a carer, I am thankful for the annexe. It’s been two years now that myself and Mum have been coming to do different activities here like knitting and nattering. Mum is able to socialise at this place.
I also volunteer to do flower arranging and seeing my mum look so proud of me for taking this class and making everyone so happy is a nice feeling.
We also run two Dementia cafes which have been a great success. I can’t believe it’s been a year since myself, Mum and the rest of the people set them up.
We keep busy and, in the words of my mum, we’re always out galavanting! We have a love for Loch Lomond and Helensburgh so most of our days away are there.
As the carer, I try not to think of my mum’s illness and have as much fun as possible with her. Of course I see her deteriorate in front of my eyes but I plod on and don’t show Mum my tears.
We both have a great sense of humour – my mum really is one in a million and who better to look after you than your own daughter?
I will always be there for my mum and to take good care of her. It’s sore to watch this and worse when she is not well, but I don’t think it will be dementia that will get the better of mum. Infection one day will – so each day we live life to the full. And most of all, we have our sense of humour.
I started Music Matters in January 2014 after seeing a need for inclusive and therapeutic music sessions in the care home setting. For many reasons I chose this path. I had to try as nobody else in my area was doing it. By 2015 I am now visiting care homes all over the region.
I had no formal training. I was calling on my experience as a former carer, musician and storyteller. I planned a set of musical activities and songs and gathered percussion instruments and off I went.
I began to notice breakthroughs early on, the most profound experience is as follows:
I arrived at a new care home and was asked to split my time between two lounges.
In one area of the care home were several people with severe dementia. Hardly any response at all. I tried several techniques to no avail and I was starting to doubt that what I was doing was worthwhile after all. At the end of my sessions I always play a piece of music chosen by one of the group. Sadly in this case I was unable to discover what anyone liked, so I chose it myself.
I chose Our Mid Babbino Caro by Puccini (My Beloved Father) sung by Maria Callas. Almost immediately, one of the ladies unfurled her body to a strong sitting position and began to vocalise with the music. It was such a delicate moment…I almost did not breathe in case I broke the perfect moment. Her hands began to move slightly and her eyes were twinkling.
The carer who accompanied me had tears in her eyes. I did too. But we respectfully waited for the song to end. When it did, I sat in front of the lady and said “I know you enjoyed that. You clearly love opera, I will ask the care staff to play this kind of music often” and she smiled and her eyes told me Yes.
As I left she lifted her hand to wave. I was then told privately that this was the first time the lady had fully responded for a long time. I said: “Please write in her care plan, she loves opera.”
I was at Sally’s talk in Melrose and it had a deep effect on me. I want to thank you for what you are doing, which is so important.
My mother was diagnosed with dementia when she was 86. She was always a fit, lively woman, and very outgoing with a love of music and dance. She taught me to love to sing and dance too. I eventually became a teacher of Scottish Country Dancing and, at times in the early stages of dementia, she would follow me round as I attempted to call Family Ceilidhs, insisting I should include more waltzes.
As the dementia progressed, a helpful member of Alzheimer’s Scotland suggested I might play some of her golden oldies (war songs, Vera Lynn, dance music, etc). I bought a small cassette player and the effect on mum was immediate and wonderful. When she eventually had to go into a care home I took the player and tapes in and explained to the staff how important it was for mum to listen to the tunes. However, at that time (in the early 90’s) they were unable to take the task on board. It really saddened me that this important lifeline was lost.
I had an experience with my mother very similar to the one Sally describes and empathise very much with your project. I intend to make contact locally in the Borders to see if I can volunteer. To improve the quality of life of just one sufferer would make a difference and I know I have skills to bring to the situation. Thank you from my heart.
My dad was Bob Crampsey. Many people knew him as a teacher or sports broadcaster and they often assumed his greatest love was football. However, his 3 driving passions were in fact cricket, travel and, above all, music. From Rachmaninov to Rodgers & Hammerstein, his tastes were eclectic (though it has to be said that he never really embraced rock ‘n’ roll!).
Dad was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease on May 16th, 2002 and when I went to see him that same night, he was sitting in the living room surrounded by an array of CDs. He was doing his best to be stoic, but I could see how shocked and scared he was.
“It’s the fear of the unknown” he said. “And if I develop dementia, I’ll never be able to enjoy my music”.
Over the next 6 years as the Parkinson’s tightened its grip, music and family were the two great constants in dad’s life. He continued to play the piano as often as he could despite the tremors and, as he said, his “selective memory of the order of the notes”. I loved how music kept him going and would often join him for a sing song or for the first listen to a new Stephen Sondheim CD.
Dad went into palliative care at Mearnskirk Hospital in late May 2008. There was no denying however that he was deteriorating steadily and he could no longer speak with visitors, yet oh, how he came to life when we put on one of his Gilbert and Sullivan CDs or popped ‘Singing in the Rain’ in the DVD player. His eyes would instantly sparkle , his hands would ‘conduct’ and he would mouth the lyrics just as he always had sung them aloud in the house….it was both miraculous and life-affirming. Just days before he died, I put on Sondheim’s “Into The Woods” – and as Dad’s favourite song “Agony” played, he turned to me and gave me the most beautiful smile, as if everything in his life was just as he would he wanted. Agony indeed but a moment I’ll cherish forever.
My parents both had dementia and both died 13 years ago. Music was always a huge part of their lives and I still have all of their old LPs and also (somewhere) dad’s first tape – “Oxygene” by Jean Michel Jarre. Mum especially loved to sing along to the radio and would often try to teach me to dance only to be frustrated by my two left feet!! “You’re just like your father!!” she would exclaim.
I remember my father playing “tie a yellow ribbon” on one of the many occasions of my mum’s return from a hospital stay – this was his way of telling her he had missed her when the words could not be found.
Even in the darker days of later stage/end life dementia when Mum’s engagement with the world was minimal , she could still tap a foot in time along to her CD of “Sing Something Simple” and occasionally hum along. I remember particularly the week before her death playing her a CD of her favourite music and seeing her foot tapping out the rhythm of the beat under the many blankets she was happed in.
Playlist for Life is a fantastic charity. My friend is currently composing a playlist for her mum who has dementia – music can reach us when the rest of life cannot.
My husband David had Huntington’s Disease, he loved music and played guitar and piano. Due to the illness he could no longer play guitar, but still played along to records on the piano. This gave him great pleasure- he was not always playing the same tune but it was melodic and he loved it. We had always gone to live concerts, so I was determined to keep doing this as long as we could.
One of our favourite bands is Hothouse Flowers- they are Irish and as we both love Ireland we travelled there often to see them. We became great friends with the band and have made lots of friends at the concerts. We all meet up and go to their concerts and sometimes David would be a bit tired but as soon as they came on stage he was wide awake and loving the music. The change in him was amazing, he would wave his arms around and, when he was still able, would stand up and have a wee dance.
Music definitely made a big difference to David, he didn’t say much near the end but would still say Hothouse Flowers and Liam (the singer with the band) when he saw them. We went to many other concerts; The Waterboys, Deacon Blue, and too many to mention. David just thrived on the music. Music is a great help for people with Dementia, it seems to spark something in them.
I attended the Playlist for Life event at Glasgow Caledonian University in two capacities. I work for Cordia, who provide homecare services throughout Glasgow and are currently working with the university to develop bespoke training on dementia for our 3000 care staff. I also have a personal interest which I would like to share with you. My father, who sadly passed away last year, had dementia along with a range of other health issues and, after much thought, he was admitted into a care home which was less than 800 yards from my home. I work full time but managed to visit him daily as while he was a strong intelligent successful businessman, he did not interact sociably with other residents and relied heavily on myself and my sister who lived nearby for his social interactions.
At the latter stage of my father’s life we had lost him. My sister was over from Southern Ireland helping. Feeling pretty helpless one morning and having been quite shocked by my father’s deterioration, she was eating her breakfast and saw Sally Magnusson being interviewed regarding her book that was due out a couple of weeks later. In the interview she talked about music helping her mother. My sister is remarkable and within that very day she had pulled out all my father’s LPs, remembering as a child when he got a fancy sports car him taping lots of music to play in his new toy. He had marked in pencil his favourite songs. She downloaded them onto an iPod, bought some little speakers and set off to the care home.
I was blown away, having seen my father sleep for 55 minutes out of every hour, there was an instant reaction. The foot tapping, the little smiles and giggles and, soon to follow, the singing along. Seeing the videos last night brought it all back to me. We gave our father a life back in his latter days. I wish we had worked out sooner but will be eternally grateful for the inspiration my sister got from watching Sally talk that morning on breakfast television. I tell everyone about it and now will direct them to your webpage. Thank you for the work you do, the passion you have and the barriers you have overcome.
I just wanted to say I really enjoyed the Playlist for Life launch event. Music has always been a big part of my life from singing when I was younger to performing / writing as I grew up, to now choosing songs for my wedding day as well as our CDs which will be our favours full of meaningful songs to us. There are no titles on the tracklist, only the memory it relates to, so people will need to listen to discover the songs. I really fell in love with the concept of Playlist for Life as I know first-hand how important music is in relation to special memories.
Hearing the effects music has on the brain and the fact that this is the one thing dementia cannot destroy really drew me in last night. I just think this is a wonderful idea and I’m so thrilled to see music being the reason behind so many positive changes in people and being the reason that people have their smiles and their fond memories back.
This Sunday, just past, I tried using an iPod and earphones for the first time with my father, Richard, who is in an excellent specialist Alzheimers care unit in Surrey. The response and reaction was even better than I had hoped.
My Dad is a retired Church of England Priest, so we chose a selection of hymns and some beautiful chants from the Taize Christian Community in France as the tracks for his playlist. It was truly wonderful to see him respond to the familiar music. He hummed along to several of the tunes, closed his eyes and really got into the music. At one point he burst out laughing, which must have been due to some memory being triggered. My mum, my brothers and I were all in tears watching this wonderful experience. I would also say that Dad was more animated for about 10 minutes after he stopped listening to the music too. A definite short lived extended effect was very evident.
My Mum is in a nursing home with severe dementia and is often physically aggressive. The other day when I was visiting she was very agitated and in pain so I put on an Ella Fitzgerald CD she used to like. I started to sing along, Mum then smiled and sang along correcting my wrong words (and tolerating my very not Ella voice!) and was a lot calmer. I then sang the famous Light Cavalry Overture by Suppe and she joined in and then peed with laughter….that was such a special moment and such a comfort.
This reminded me of a patient we had when I was a district nurse. This woman was severely demented, blind and mute on conversation but would sing words/songs. When we first met her she would let no-one near her without scratching, biting etc and, to cut a very long and painstaking journey short (3 months), we were eventually able to give this woman all her care with her compliance by using different songs for different care. ‘Guide Me O Thy Great Jehovah’ was for the bed bath with the chorus for changing the sheets. The best was that we managed to ‘train’ her to use the commode to “Oh You Beautiful Doll’ and she would pass urine on the grand finale high note! I still remember every word of that song to this day and it brings tears to my eyes just thinking what an amazing thing it was that we managed to achieve with music.
I’ve just finished reading Where Memories Go, with tears running down my face. Slightly embarrassing, as I was at work and finishing off the book in my lunch hour.
The experiences described so closely matched the experience my family had with our beloved mother, who was of a similar age to Mamie Baird, and who also died with dementia, aged 81, in 2008.
Mum grew up in Mull and was part of the Gaelic choir tradition, taking part in the Mods. She enjoyed traditional music but she also enjoyed the way Glenn Miller’s band could bring back memories of meeting our father shortly after the war. And she loved French songs, and the Beatles – music of all sorts. It’s something we children have inherited.
As the dementia worsened, we realised that a CD or a song would lift her spirits and bring Mum back to us in no time at all. We all loved singing for, to and with her. Music is a great gift and this is a fabulous venture. Good luck.
THE BARRETT FAMILY
I was lucky enough to here Sally speak about her family’s experience and Playlist for Life at the SECC. I was so inspired and it touched me personally as my father has been diagnosed with dementia.
My father is amazing. He worked as a teacher for more than 40 years and loved every minute. An immensely talented man, he helped hundreds of youngsters to fulfill their potential in music and drama, and brought joy to those who participated and those he entertained.
Dad is now 83 and continues to live happily with my mother. His mobility is limited, at times he feels claustrophobic and his deafness isolates him from his friends and to some extent us, his family. None of this is a huge problem as he is wonderfully cared for by my mother and is generally very happy and contented. Dad loved going to the theatre but the last few times we have taken him, he has been uncomfortable and asked to leave. He cannot really hear clearly and finds it hard in social situations as he does not recognise unfamiliar faces.
Music has always been important to Dad so, after listening to Sally, I asked my family to think about tunes from different stages of his life. We than got together and spent an evening making up a playlist including wartime favourites, musical numbers, pop hits and hymns. We downloaded the playlist to Mum and Dad’s iPad and presented it to him on Father’s Day.
Dad loves it. He has listened to it for hours, singing along, talking about where the music is from and who is performing, connecting it to productions he remembers. His joy is infectious. Dad’s connection to the music is proof that this is worthwhile – to see his personality shine again is truly fantastic.
The first real sign that there was something wrong with Mum came one day when my brother Gordon had decided to take her out. When he called to collect her, she was half-dressed with no real idea why she could not complete the task of dressing or what she was getting dressed for. My brother called me and I went over immediately. A doctor arrived and said it could be the early stages of dementia.
A care plan was put in place but we were worried. Mum’s hospital assessment diagnosed vascular dementia, and we all agreed that she should not live alone. Then we faced her worst nightmare – going into a care home. Gordon and I opted for Lochleven Care Home in Monifieth, very close to most of the family. It was the right decision and we never regretted it.
If I am honest, I added music to my visits to relieve the tedium of asking the same questions and covering the same subjects every time. I opted for a compilation album of songs from an era Mum would recall – I knew I would end up singing along. But listening to music was like switching on a light bulb. Mum would recognise a tune, and often sing along, word perfect. It was easy for me to join in and it connected us in a simple, comforting way.
There was something else about these songs that was even more remarkable. They triggered memories of family life, of get-togethers where everyone sang their party piece. Mum remembered them fondly, often recalling exactly who used to sing a particular song.
Val Doonican was one of Mum’s favourites. His Saturday night TV shows were compulsory viewing at home. Perhaps the most cherished of his songs to both my parents was Scarlet Ribbons. When I played that to Mum she would remember Saturday nights in front of the fire with her favourite show and a quarter pound of sweets to share among four or five of us.
Music played a very positive role during my visits. I am absolutely certain it brought back memories we thought lost in the mists of her dementia, and it gave me a link that I cherish. To anyone dealing with a loved one with dementia please try sharing music – you may be pleasantly surprised. There is nothing to lose and such a lot to gain.
In January last year my grandma passed away. Ten years ago, her dementia started with slight memory loss – repeating questions, needing notes stuck around the house to remember where things were. The damage to Grandma’s brain progressed throughout the years, leading not only to problems with her memory but also with communication and understanding. She would be petrified when she woke up in her rocking chair and didn’t know where she was, pleading for me to take her home, to the living room where she sat. She had severe, violent, mood changes – it was extremely upsetting to see my lovely, kindhearted grandma saying and doing things completely out of character. She was the sweetest lady with the biggest heart, and had so much love for life and her family. She lived with dementia for so long, showing strength and determination. In her last days I told her it was OK to stop fighting. As I cried beside her, she used all her strength to lift her tiny arm to my head to comfort me. Unable to see, talk, swallow, barely able to hear and not even able to close her eyes, she continued to fight.
A few days later, as she lay in her bed, my mum and I sat looking through old photo albums, talking about them to her. Grandma had been deaf for several years, and her eyesight had deteriorated significantly too. Working with deaf-blind adults as a profession, I used a variety of sensory ways to communicate with her but I had never tried music. As Mum and I sat there, a photograph of her dancing triggered a conversation about the music she had enjoyed. We enjoyed reminiscing about music Grandma had listened to over the years and connections to her family, friends and events. The snooker theme (Drag Racer) always excited her as she loved to watch snooker; Annie’s Song played by James Galway on the flute, There’s No One Quite Like Grandma which my cousin and I would sing and dance to when putting on a show; and the theme from Gone With The Wind – a film she had loved watching at the cinema with Grandad. I found each of these songs on YouTube on my iPhone and played it on full volume on her pillow near her ear. She definitely responded – small movements with her fingers, her eyes flickered and head turned towards the music – she was too frail for much more as she had not eaten or drank anything in over a week.
That was my last day and evening with Grandma, she passed away that night. Whilst I feel sad that I hadn’t thought of music years, months, weeks or even days ago, I was so pleased that we had such a special last day together, with my mum there too.
I discovered this incredible route for communication while I was caring for my mother and father, who both suffered from Alzheimer’s in parallel. They were well cared for at home by a rota consisting of myself, some other family members, home helps, private carers, and Alzheimer Scotland carers.
Dad died first, and Mum four years later. Towards the end, my mother knew no-one, could not speak, and was visibly badly depressed. Then one day I caught her humming a nursery rhyme (In And Out The Dusty Bluebells), the words of which I could not remember fully, but I started singing it. And then, the miracle – she took over, and sang the whole thing through, word and note perfect. From there we progressed through all of the old Scots nursery rhymes – Ally Bally, Katie Bairdie Had A Coo and so on. Every time I was there I could bring a big, big smile to her face by starting the singsong. The wonder of it, apart from her remembering the words, was that it actually restored her language, as long as it was in song.
On her last night we sang Dusty Bluebells. I told her I’d be with her all night, and that it was fine for her to go if she felt ready. Then I asked her for a big kiss, and she enthusiastically puckered up her lips. I told her I loved her and tucked her in. I checked a couple of times through the night and she was sleeping soundly. When I went to her bedside at 7.30am, she had gone, just gone I think, as she was warm. The strangest thing was, I felt absolutely elated for her.
My husband Jamie was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2007 when he was 59, having struggled with memory issues for the previous couple of years. He then lost his job in the IT business where he had been a professional for 30 years.
As a boy, he and his brothers loved their guitars and were always playing and singing together. Music was a vital part of his life and he had a phenomenal repertoire of songs. Always the entertainer at parties, he was never without his guitar at any social gathering. Five years after being diagnosed, he picked up and started playing the harmonica. Now, however, his loss of speech and co-ordination means the only music available to him has to be through the iPod we loaded that with all his CDs, tapes and old LPs. I even found a beanie hat with built-in speakers and a lead to the iPod. With the hat or headset on, Jamie is invariably wreathed in smiles and happily plays air guitar as he wanders round the house.
So YES, music IS a wonderful lift and should be widely used at home, in care homes, and possibly even hospitals. That and daily long walks through the fields have kept Jamie in good health and still relatively “with” us, although we have lost some of the great character/father/grandfather he once was.
I am a final year nursing student and really interested in music therapy. I worked in a nursing home with residents who had dementia.
I am musically talented so on two occasions I played my flute alongside others singing popular hymns and songs. It was unreal how interactive one particular resident became – she got very involved, her mood lifted and she could remember every single word of the songs. I went over and told her about the flute and showed it to the other residents. The interaction was unbelievable. They reminisced about their younger days and their choir singing experiences.
This has inspired me to do music therapy in the future alongside my nursing.
Growing up I always remember music in our lives. There were singles galore, LPs for Christmas, family gatherings that always end with a singsong of Irish tunes. Mum loved music and her favourite was always Jim Reeves, who was not so popular with four teens! We preferred watching Top Of The Pops and dancing in the living room.
Mum was diagnosed with dementia five years ago and has become increasingly confused, but when we play Jim Reeves she responds well and her mood brightens. One of her carers even downloaded some of his songs to her phone to play to Mum.
In January, Mum had to be admitted to hospital with a serious infection. Upset and agitated, she was shouting at the doctors and nurses, and refused to let them treat her. One nurse started to sing Christmas carols and Mum began to sing along, then allowed her to put in a drip.
Music has really helped us to maintain our bond. I regularly buy old compilations to play for the residents at Mum’s care home and we put old album covers on the walls. My nephew, who is a musician. came to visit and we had a singsong which was well received by many of the residents and their families.
A musical diary or individual playlist is an excellent idea. When we visit Mum we play music and sing along to Jim Reeves and old hymns and songs. It really links us and helps us to communicate in a way speech alone no longer does.
When I looked after my Momma, who had dementia, some 20 years ago I discovered that music gave her great joy. If you don’t know what songs to pick, do what I did and start with Christmas carols and hymns – they’re always a good bet.
Now my husband has dementia. I didn’t think that it would happen to him – I always thought I would get it! So I am repeating what I did for Momma for my husband. His favourite TV show is Songs Of Praise.
BRYONY MITCHELL AND VAL TURLEY
It was the first time we played some of the music chosen for his playlist. The classical pieces moved him to tears and he declared them “bloody lovely”. Then, as a contrast, he listened to some hilarious Tom Lehrer songs and laughed as much as he’d cried.
When the music had finished you could tell it was still in his head and that he was reliving bits of it. It was wonderful to see the enjoyment it brought him and to see him connect with the music he has loved throughout his life.
I think it is clear from the photos that things are going remarkably well. We feel that my Uncle Luke has gone up a couple of gears since we started using his playlist.
Luke has always had a great love of music and it is impossible to overestimate how important it is to him. We recorded a selection onto the iPod and let him listen to it on the shuffle facility. It went down very well.
We consciously let Luke listen to his music in the lounge of his care home to impress upon the staff how important it is to him. They can see how immersed he becomes in it and how moved he is. Background music is played all the time but the effect of a personalised playlist is very different. We hope the management will be persuaded to use music in a more structured way.
Other residents have listened to music through the headphones and loved it. Today, an ex-Liverpool footballer heard You’ll Never Walk Alone. His face lit up and he was transported back to the football field. He sang along, very loudly, and waved his arms around as if he were conducting thousands of fans in the Kop end. It was wonderful to see, and his wife was thrilled. She plans to get an iPod now.
I noticed my mum was getting forgetful in 2004, just after my father died. He was the memory man and she was a bit lost without him. I looked after her at home for almost ten years and then, happily, she went into care. Life at home had become stressful; latterly I had to stay through the night because she would wake up and be frightened, shouting for help.
I could relate to Sally putting on her “armour” before visiting her mum, as we have had lots of laughter and lots of tears. I once had to hunt for my mum’s car when she drove to Glasgow, parked in Argyle Street, then came home on the bus; I apologised to the newsagent when she cancelled her newspaper delivery after accusing the paperboys of doing her crossword. Most stressful of all was trying to get Mum to church on Sunday after she could no longer drive herself. We tried a special bus, taxis, volunteer drivers – nothing seemed to work.
Now I know Mum has 24-hour care, my life has become more normal and I am able to enjoy my 16-month-old grandson. Spending time with him is similar to looking after his great gran – we sing songs together together, and I help him to walk, and eat, and clean him up. Life certainly does go full circle.
After visiting my mum on Sunday, I feel very committed to your cause. She has dementia and has lived in a care home for two-and-a-half years. During that time our visits have become increasingly difficult as her memory and communication skills have slowly disappeared. However, we recently hit on the idea of taking in some music that she still remembered.
At each visit we have been gradually adding to the number of songs we take along. This week we didn’t even try to engage in any real conversation but just poured Mum a sherry and we sang along to the music. Mum was so happy and relaxed, smiling and laughing, it was wonderful to be able to share the experience with her. A lovely, lovely visit. For once I could leave her with a light heart.
I knew we were onto something and after reading Sally’s book and visiting your website I was thrilled to find that we were not alone in our discovery.
JO DOWNIE Client Welfare Manager
Mary is a 90-year-old lady living with dementia. She moved into a care home about two years ago as it was becoming unsafe for her to to live alone in her own home. Mary liked to keep busy so she helped in the dining rooms at meal times, and because she always loved to sing she joined the local dementia choir.
Over the last six months, Mary’s physical health and mobility has deteriorated and she has started to become agitated. She has been so tired and lethargic, she couldn’t attend choir and became very low.
I thought she was an ideal candidate for Playlist so I started gathering music she enjoyed singing. There was quite a collection, from The Sound Of Music to Donald, Where’s Yer Troosers?
When I went to the care home last week I found Mary slumped in a chair in the reception area. Although she recognised me, it was clear she wasn’t great that day. With the help of a carer, we walked back to her room where I set up the iPod with a small speaker. As The Sound Of Music boomed out, Mary’s head lifted, her eyes engaged and she began to smile. It was so lovely. As she put on the headphones she seemed to become younger and kept saying, “This is marvelous! This is wonderful!” As I left, Mary was walking along the corridor with a nurse, singing away. The lady in charge of her wing said it was like having the old Mary back. The manager of the home says Mary is transformed – singing at the top of her voice and loving it. Thank you, Playlist.
My mother, Florence East, was born in London in 1925, the eldest surviving child of a family of five. Her mother died at 40 after a long illness and it fell to Florence to hold the family together aged 14, at the outbreak of WWII. When her younger siblings were evacuated, Florence took to singing at the local club where she accompanied her father.
Florence lost herself in musical theatre, and after joining the Womens’ Royal Air Force, she appeared as a vocalist in concert parties and recorded songs from the musical Showboat. Florence often talked about once missing a local talent competition that was won by another young woman named Vera Lynn. Florence always believed she would have beaten Vera and become the Forces Sweetheart herself.
After meeting a dashing older man called Jim, Florrie settled into family life and put her ideas of a singing career on permanent hold to raise their three children, and later, to care for seven grandchildren. Sadly, Jim succumbed to cancer in 1987 but music and singing continued to be a happy part of Florence’s life, and she encouraged her eldest grand-daughter to sing, and play piano and violin.
These days, Florence sings and entertains the staff at her nursing home and, despite her Alzheimer’s, she recalls the lyrics of her favourite songs word-perfectly.
My mum, Bettina Marguerite Butler, was born in 1919, married my dad in 1942 and lived in the same house for the next 72 years. Her three children, then her six grandchildren, were all raised singing along with her to Pack Up Your Troubles, It’s A Long Way To Tipperary, Show Me The Way To Go Home etc Mum loved music and dancing, especially tap dancing, and would tap away in the kitchen while washing up.
Despite losing a daughter and her husband, life was OK for mum until her sight started to fail. Then, at her 90th birthday party, we noticed her failing to remember little things so I stopped working to care for her. In 2012, Mum was diagnosed with mixed dementia. I didn’t want her to go into a nursing home and despite a few difficult times – like the night she put her PJs in the oven – we managed to keep her in her own home.
I would often wheel her to the park and we became known locally as the mother and daughter who went along the road singing. We’d sing all the way there and, for some strange reason, as she entered the park, Mum would burst into the French national anthem. One lady got very emotional the other day, recounting her memories of seeing me and Mum singing as we went along the street.
I found such comfort in Sally’s book and, inspired by the playlist idea, we decided to install a computer we could control remotely to play music for mum.
Mum collapsed one morning with a stroke. In the ambulance, I held her hand and sang all the songs that meant so much to the two of us. I know in my heart this comforted her. Mum never opened her eyes again but my daughters and I took an iPod into the hospital and we all gained so much from choosing the songs we felt Nanny would want to hear. We sang and laughed and cried with her to the end.
And at her funeral we sang Praise, My Soul, The King Of Heaven, which she walked down the aisle to on her wedding day. We sang Lord, For The Years in thanksgiving of her life. And my eldest daughter, who is studying to be a music therapist, played a beautiful rendition of Mum and Dad’s tune We’ll Gather Lilacs. Not a dry eye in the house.
I already know that singing with, and playing the piano for, my mother brings her into a place which is connected, supportive and cheerful. Your website has spurred me on to creating a unique playlist which can help her when I am not there. Also, it is healing work to go about creating the playlist and I appreciate your hints for those of us who have failed to keep up with technology.
My mother had dementia and I remember attending the Christmas carol service every year at her care home. It was lovely to see the majority of residents singing carols with no need to refer to the printed word which would have been problematic anyway. I remember singing Away In A Manger and when the music stopped my mother carried on singing quite unawares that she was the only voice in the room but locked in her own memories.
After one such service the staff told me of a resident who had been moved from another home several months previously and had not spoken a word since, and yet she had sung along with all the carols. They hoped this was a breakthrough. I would like to suggest that you add some Christmas carols to your playlist and also maybe nursery rhymes.
I’m a 47-year-old mother of three. My grandmother is still alive and has just celebrated her 97th birthday. She does suffer from short-term memory loss and just six months ago went into a lovely care home. My mother, who is 74 years old, went into a care home 15 months ago having been suffering from Lewy body dementia for some years.
Reading Where Memories Go has given me a spur to keep both my gran and my mother entertained with the music side of things. In the last two weeks I’ve got them both tapping their feet and my mother especially swinging her arms to the lovely sound of Mario Lanza.
I have just read Sally Magnusson’s book Where Memories Go and been to see her at a reading in St Boswells. Her story echoes that of my experience of looking after my lovely father who passed away a few months ago.
Dad lost the power of speech so I was amazed that he could join in with songs I would sing and harmonise like he always did. Regular music sessions followed with the support of two musical friends of mine and it gave such comfort to my mum and me to hear his voice again. Dad also seemed quite bright afer singing too. This experience lead to the formation of Songbook, an idea we had to try and support other people with music, either in their own home or another informal, non-clinical setting. After a few sessions at a dementia café and a local day centre, we hope to continue giving people a little bit of support with some fun thrown in.
My mother has advanced Alzheimer’s and her communication is now very limited. She has always enjoyed music and since her diagnosis we have found it an extremely helpful tool to relax her and keep her calm.
She enjoys listening to music in the house and when she attends her dementia day care centre. Given her limited vocabulary and ability to interact, this has been a fantastic way of awakening something in her and gives her the ability to join in. I hadn’t thought of making up a playlist but will now. Thank you for this.
I first heard of Playlist for Life on the morning of the 28th of January this year as I watched Sally being interviewed for BBC Breakfast. My Dad had Vascular Dementia, a great music lover and singer, he loved every kind of music, classical, country and western, musicals were a great favourite and he would come to Waterboys concerts with my brothers and I well into his 70s. He quite simply loved music.
He had become quieter over the last few months and his memory was becoming increasingly poor, despite this he would still sing, all the songs he loved, word for word and I would see that wonderful spark come back in his eye again. If he was having a quiet day we would sing a wee song together and we had our connection back.
So when I heard Sally it struck me as such a simple, wonderful idea and I started to compose a playlist on my iPhone for him. He sadly, peacefully passed away that evening, but his playlist continues to help us all keep him in our memories.
My father died last month of vascular dementia. He was very lucky to have had 24-hour palliative care in his own home for the last nine months of his life.
One carer was amazing with Dad. Unwittingly, but, I believe, intuitively, he dug out Dad’s old ghetto blaster and played Max Bygraves CDs. They sang along together – Kiss Me Goodnight Sergeant Major, I’ll Be With You In Apple Blossom Time and all the old favourites. Dad loved it. I joined in and must say that singing We’ll Meet Again with your dying father (he in a quavering voice) does not do wonders for the tear ducts.
This made his life worth living and more vibrant.
MARION ANDERSON Student and Carer
As the daughter and guardian of a fabulous father with dementia, this is something very close to me. I first got my Dad an iPod Shuffle about five years ago and filled it with all his favourite songs. It never ceases to astonish me that he might not be able to remember what happened five minutes ago but he can remember nearly every word to his favourite songs from his younger days and I see the joy it brings him.
We run a group in Comrie, Perthshire for people living with dementia, their carers and frail and lonely folk. We are called Sing-A-Long and we meet monthly to sing old favourite and familiar songs. We supply transport and afternoon tea and encourage integration and support. Our singers really enjoy their singing experience and I am told that improvements in behaviour and memory have been noted.
ANN DAVIDSON Carer
I am a carer who works with adults with learning disabilities. One of the clients I support has early onset dementia and over the 13 years I have worked with her I have witnessed a dramatic change in her losing her independence and just who she is.
Because I had known her before the dementia I knew all the things she enjoyed doing and all the kind of things she was passionate about. So now, as she chooses to stay indoors more often and conversation is limited, I often make up some playlists on my Spotify account and we listen to her kind of music.
She loves the movies so I often tell her I have a playlist and challenge her to guess which movie it’s from. The spark comes back in her eyes and we have a singalong to the track and this opens up a conversation about who starred in the movie and what she liked or didn’t like about it.
She loves to dance and has her own moves so we often go to the local disco put on by the council run for adults who have learning disabilities. She becomes her old self again and will engage better with you when a song is on. When we are in the car and a song comes on she likes she often asks for me to, “Turn that up – that’s a classic!” referring to a Roxette or Whitney Houston song. “That Bodyguard film was ace” she tells me. It’s a really great feeling belting out “I will always love you-ooooooo” with her as in that moment she hasn’t got dementia and I don’t feel like her carer. We’re just two tuneless pals enjoying a moment.
MEMORY, a poem by MAGGIE FARRELL Training Coordinator for Carers’ Trust Scotland
Hot, fizzing, lemonade at midnight,
You peel an orange in one curly piece,
an apple into boats, new moons.
Table upside down: a raft afloat your kitchen chaos.
Soft, dark folds in amongst your wardrobe,
Wedding dress satin, bell bottom trouser suits,
Knee high, suede purple boots.
And your Hollywood glamour smile.
Still smiling now, though the glamour dulled
by jumpers stained with soup and tea; and breakfast fallen at your feet.
Words tangled and lost in the maze of your memory.
Same softness; same sharpness competing to win.
But I remember your wellness
Your love, your fun, your crazy commotion
Bubbling up, (like the hot fizzy lemonade,)
in my memory.
Joyce, my mum, died in January 2014. She had lived with dementia for more than ten years. Although her grip on names and family relationships had disappeared, her reasoning and ability to philosophise remained strong, and she gave us the benefit of her wisdom right to the end.
Her final week was filled with music. In the final few months she gradually lost the ability to swallow, and after a TIA on New Year’s Day we took the hard decision to opt just for palliative care. She spent that week in her sunny south-facing bedroom, with songs from the 30s and 40s on replay on the CD player.
The Friday morning I spent with her singing along to the music as she danced her soft toys around the bed, waving her arms and moving her feet to the beat. That night she slipped into unconsciousness, but she had had such a happy week and the music played a huge part in that.
DUNCAN JONES Journalist and Carer
Mum was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s five years ago. We’d known something was wrong for some time but the diagnosis still came as a shattering blow. Mum had just lost her husband of 46 years to cancer and had to cope with bereavement and diagnosis at the same time. She lived alone for another two years until it became clear that she needed full-time care.
We’re lucky to have found a truly caring care home and Mum is content. Our conversation has declined to virtually nothing but her love of music remains. I sing with her every time I visit and we laugh and smile. Music truly is a gift.
Through Mum’s experiences, I’ve become a blogger on dementia – http://shesstillmymum.wordpress.com/ – and a campaigner. I hope that somewhere inside Mum approves.
We first realised something was wrong with Mum after the death of our father, for whom she had been carer for ten years following a stroke.
We had put the lack of interest in her appearance and increasingly burnt dinners down to stress and worry about her dear Jack. There followed three years of decline with increasing periods of blankness punctuated by vicious verbal abuse and periods of sweetness and charm.
As her ability to hold a conversation and engage in anything declined we found music could transform her, sending her back to her youth when she used to go dancing at Hammersmith Palace to the sound of Glenn Miller and the big bands. Her face would light up, she would sway to the music transported back to happy memories of dancing in the arms of some young man, sometimes even attempting to dance around with her walking frame.
I have just watched the clip of Harry and found it very moving. My 85-year-old mam has just been diagnosed with dementia, starting medication yesterday. I am going to prepare a playlist for her because she likes music and I think it would help. She oftens sings songs from the war period so I think a little Vera Lynn may be appropriate.
Thank you very much for your inspiration.
Listening to Sally Magnusson on the radio this morning, I was reminded of the times I spent with my father in the last years of his life. His short and long-term memory had almost completely disappeared but when I sang him the songs he used to sing with us as children (particularly on long car journeys), he would eventually join in and sometimes could even remember the verses that I had forgotten.
There Were Three Men Of Bristol City, Villikins And His Dinah, A Fox Went Out On A Chilly Night, There Was An Old Woman Who Swallowed A Fly – we sang them all. Three weeks before he died, he spontaneously mentioned a song based on a poem by Heinrich Heine – Ich Weiss Nicht Was Soll Es Bedeuten Dass Ich So Traurig Bin. This was not a song I had ever heard, so had no idea that it was lodged somewhere in his mind and emotions.
It made me think that we should all be producing our own playlists now: our children may have no idea of the tunes that were important to us in our early lives.
LORNA CAMPBELL Carer
Your site is brilliant and so true. I am a private home carer. I have been for four years. In the afternoon I would do support work with a lady with severe dementia and, like you, I found music from her past brought her alive. I would use my laptop and type in DUKE OF PERTH on YouTube and she would come alive and watch and know every step. Also her other favourite music, every word she would remember.
I’m so glad you have given me another idea and I hope you try mine too.
MAGDA MCHUGH Media Consultant
I was the primary carer for my dad during the final years of his life.
Alzheimer’s may have robbed him of his ability to speak and recognise friends and family, but he never forgot how to dance or appreciate his favourite operatic arias. Dancing around the room in one another’s arms gave both of us immeasurable comfort and happiness.
I always tell anyone facing dementia issues to find some music that matters to them.
The results are remarkable.
ANDY LOWNDES Playlist for Life Trustee
I have been working with a client with dementia in Edinburgh. She lives at home still and has a number of carers who visit to support her throughout the day. She spends most of the day sitting in her chair, as her mobility is poor. She watches her television and listens to the radio occasionally.
When Playlist for Life associate Jo Downie and I visited her at first, our intention was to talk to her and identify her favourite music. In her room was a piano with sheet music in its music stand. Sonatas, she said, were what her mother and brother had played; she herself didn’t play.
We noticed a large pile of records stacked neatly in the corner of her room next to a redundant record player and we began to leaf through them with her.
“Arthur Rubenstein is my favourite,” she said as she began to look at the reverse of the album covers. “Ah, Chopin, Beethoven … Moonlight and Pathetique Sonatas.”
Her eyes lit up. “I liked hymns also,” she said. “There was a programme on the television recently from Paisley Abbey I liked.”
To be quick, I took photographs of all the album covers and set my mind to find the episode of Songs of Praise on iPlayer. Then I could start to build the playlist.
Earlier this week we went out to introduce the client to her playlist on her iPod Nano. When she heard the music she smiled and her eyes lit up, as she began to conduct along with the playlist pieces. What a great reaction! We left instruction with her carers as to how they could offer the music as they left her each time.
“I would like the list of the music on it,” (the iPod) she said. “I’m a bit of a list person and I want to check it off as I hear it.”
So I have some work to do. The voice-over function on the iPod will help her to identify the music and she can then check it off the list. I’m going to do that over the next week or so and return with the list and adjusted playlist with ‘voice over’ switched on.