New film shows the musician’s side of working with people with dementia

A little while ago, our Wishing Well programme with people with dementia was featured on BBC South East. Shortly after, we received a very moving letter from the daughter of one of our participants, thanking us for, “giving me my Mum back, albeit briefly”. She had seen her Mum on the film, smiling gently and singing song lyrics with our musicians. Her response was subtle, but showed more engagement than her daughter had seen in many months. It brought her comfort to know that her Mum could still experience joy.

It takes skill to create a musical interaction on a busy hospital ward; to work with someone with dementia to find that song from their personal sound track that holds so much meaning for them it brings them back into the world. Our Musicians in Healthcare are all professionals. We have in depth training and a strong vocation to do this work as well as a deeply held belief that no-one is beyond the reach of music, based on personal experience of hundreds of interactions and a growing evidence base from the media and academia.

Our new short film, funded by Arts Council England and made by Sarah West of West Creative explores how we use music making to build a bridge across the anxiety and isolation that the condition causes and to help people connect with the world around them again. One Nurse described this as like “watching a flower unfurl”. I hope the film encapsulates that.

Jo White, Wishing Well Programme Manager

Rhys and The Royal Alex on BBC South East

Thank you to BBC South East Today and BBC Children in Need for choosing our Wishing Well Music in Healthcare programme to highlight on the news. We are thrilled to be supported by Pudsey Bear so that we can continue to bring music to sick children at the Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital. Thanks to the wonderful children, families, doctors and nurses of the High Dependency Unit for being a part of the film.

Understanding the Musician as a Resource for Healthcare

Kate Murdoch, reflects on the importance of good team work with clinical staff, in her role as Musician in Healthcare at The Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital, Brighton:

One of many encouraging developments in the Wishing Well Programme at theRoyal Alexandra Children’s Hospital in Brighton, has been the growing element of team-working with clinical staff, particularly in the high dependency unit (HDU).

The children and young people in the HDU are in a critical condition, and as musicians we have to be very sensitive to the medical needs of patients, whilst also respecting the personal space of patients, parents and carers at the bedside. Staff members really understand now that we are not musical entertainers, but a flexible resource of musicians capable of connecting with a wide range of patients and situations to help promote human connection, empowerment and creativity during challenging times.

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Key to this development has been briefings with clinical staff before we go on the wards, and increasing referrals asking us to visit individual children. The background information about patient’s situations, and what’s happening on the day, has been essential in helping to focus our musical interactions in a way that can most benefit patients. It has certainly been a learning curve for me in terms of flexibility as a musician, including finding creative and sensitive ways to connect with people during critical situations, including young patients who are at the end of life.

Another area of personal growth has been an increasing awareness of the importance of the sound environment in ward areas. There’s been significant improvement in the appearance of clinical spaces in hospitals with pictures, decorations and softer lighting. However, the ‘sound ecology’ of wards has received less attention, and for young patients it can be an very alien environment of beeping machines, wheeled equipment and adults moving and talking in a way different from home.

We try very hard to reduce the amount of invasive sound…but the reality is that this is a Critical Care area. Small children lying in bed are surrounded by monitors alarming, fluid pumps alarming and anxious voices. Having calming sounds that they can use to tune away from us can help significantly reduce their distress.”
Janet Lee, Critical Care Practitioner, The Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital.

It’s an area ripe for further development, and it’s good to know that the Wishing Well Programme is already helping by bringing soothing and uplifting sounds into the wards.