This week we’ll be shining a spotlight on activities that helps people with dementia live well and also their carers. The Singing for the Brain choir based at Otley Courthouse and later Care and Repair’s memory library resource.
“It is absolutely delightful” says Penny “We didn’t know anyone here to begin with but they’re such a lovely group of people.”
Penny and her husband, Stanley, who has mild cognitive impairment, joined the Singing for the Brain choir at Otley Courthouse eighteen months ago. The choir consists of people with dementia, their carers and volunteers.
Hymns, showstoppers, 60s pop, jazz or folk – all have a place in their songbook and the music soothes, stimulates and brings to mind long-forgotten memories and unites them in song.
The total number of people with the dementia in the UK is predicted to be one million plus by 2021. Although there are no long-term cures there are ways of alleviating symptoms – music is one of them. Even if people can’t talk they may be able to sing, whistle, clap or tap their feet.
As music is tied closely to emotional memories often lyrics and music remain firmly fixed in the brain, even though other memories have faded.
Singing for the Brain, run by the Alzheimer’s Society, brings people together so they can express themselves and socialise with others in fun, interactive singing sessions.
The Otley Singing for the Brain choir meets on the second and fourth Monday of every month and is led by self-employed musician, Antony Davies.
“Singing has many benefits – it keeps the brain active, it stays even though other areas have gone and most of all, it’s just good fun. Music gives everyone – carers and the person with dementia – a much needed boost” he explained.
“We’re not here just to sing-a-long to old songs, we learn new ones and we sing in rounds and canons”.
Antony also leads other Singing for the Brain choirs in Rothwell, Pudsey, Wetherby, Wakefield and Pontefract.
Once everyone is settled the session starts by going round the circle, each person sings their name, which the group sings back to them and then giving a bit of news. Photos are brought in and handed round. Ken, who cares for his wife, Chrissie, 92 years of age, has brought in family pictures from the Second World War and a book “My World War” which he wrote himself. Patrick, Chrissie and Ken’s son brings them to the choir so they have something they take part in together. Dillis says she’s here just for the singing but she also reports on her son who has been growing seeds for the new cenotaph that was unveiled in Bramley, Leeds.
The first song “My hat has three corners” is an action song which gets harder as it progresses as words are replaced with actions such as nodding or touching the head until there are hardly any phrases left. It gets everyone laughing.
Next is a song sung in three parts “Rock of my soul in the bosom of Abraham.” Stanley is in very good voice. He also sings at church. “O, how lovely is the evening” is sung in four parts and you can see by the smiles, and hear, how much everyone enjoys the experience.
After a break for a cuppa and biscuits the 59 page song book is handed out so people can choose the songs they want to sing. So we launch into Pack Up Your Troubles, It’s a Long Way to Tipperary, and Roll out the Barrel.
Stanley suggests “Thank Heavens for little girls” from the film “Gigi” and there is much discussion as to who played the female lead. Was it Audrey Hepburn? Sue, one of the volunteers puts everyone’s mind at rest when she says firmly, “Lesley Caron”. Antony gets people to name their favourite film stars – James Stewart, Dirk Bogarde, Sidney Poitier, Kenneth Moore, Marissa Tomei and Doris Day. Perhaps they could sing songs from Hollywood?
One of the volunteers, Sue suggests singing Jerusalem but Antony has planned for the next session to be themed “Last Night of the Proms”, coinciding with coverage on the TV, so they will sing Jerusalem then along with Land of Hope and Glory and Rule Brittania.
While people start putting on their coats I have a chat with Gwen Oates , Co-ordinator, Leeds Alzheimer’s Society, who tells me about the other Singing for the Brain choirs in Bramley and Pudsey.
“I want to give extra thanks to the Courthouse for supporting this venture and for getting the choir up and running. We’re really keen for more Singing for the Brain choirs to be set up in Leeds” said Gwen “If anyone would like to get involved just give me a call on 0113 231 1727.