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.

“And so the music plays” A new blog by Lucy Frost

“And so the music plays” A new blog by Lucy Frost, Dementia Specialist Nurse and Wishing Well music champion

Several months ago we arranged screenings of the documentary film Alive Inside to NHS and social care colleagues, as well as members of the public.  The aim was to use the messages about the potential power of music in making a connection with a person living with an advancing dementia.  We hoped this would help health professionals think about how to use music in the care settings in which they were based to help start interactions with people they were supporting.  We hoped that people working in the dementia care field would meet other interested colleagues, get talking to members of the public who came, and share experiences and ideas.

I know, from working alongside people with dementia and their carers as I do, that music can be emotional.  However, reconnecting with these emotions triggered by hearing a favourite song or piece of music is indeed so powerful it can actually bring someone back to reconnecting with who they are.

Over 500 people attended the screenings, and we received hundreds of ‘pledges’ from people letting us know what they might do to bring more music into the lives of people living with dementia.  This included a local care home investing in personal music players for residents, and a local community choir going into local care homes to sing with people (Note the sing with / not for)  This was all about music with people with dementia, and making it personal.

At around the same time, Wishing Well Music in Healthcare, a local progranme delivered by Rhythmix music charity had begun to work with people with dementia in hospital.  This project was supported by the Dementia Care Team at the hospital, and had a small amount of funding.

I met with Jo White from Wishing Well, and quickly came to the realisation I had to do whatever I could to support this project, and make it count.  Hospital can be a difficult place for a person with dementia, and this was something that could lighten the mood, and change the space.

We were so moved by the impact the sessions have had on the people who have been involved, people living with dementia and those caring for them, we decided to make a film about it!  Sarah West , a local Brighton based film maker agreed to help us, and the people you see in the film were very generous in allowing their experiences to be shared.  Go to our “Film” tab to see the result!

Projects like these can only be continued where there is funding to support them, and the sad fact is there is just not enough music playing in the lives of people with dementia, particularly those people who can no longer always rely on spoken words.

The impact of music seems to be such that it enhances wellbeing.  Music as a recognised intervention for communicating with a person with dementia, is an area that requires ongoing research and evaluation.  It may then become clear how using music in the right way helps make better outcomes for people.  As the evidence base grows, so does the case for bringing music into hospitals and care homes routinely.

No one should be denied the opportunity to  reconnect with their own personal playlist, which is the soundtrack to our feelings and memories – The Wishing Well Project can do much more with the right support to make it happen.