Singing for the Brain

Initiated by the Alzheimer’s Society, Singing for the Brain is something that people with dementia and similar conditions and their carers enjoy and which has proved to be amazingly therapeutic. There are some 25 groups around the country, of which Bristol is one and presently has 80 members. Devised by music specialists at Reading University, the groups are regarded as stimulating and challenging, involving gentle physical activity. People who seem lost to normal communication discover they can not only sing old familiar tunes but recall the words as well. A weekly event, they give support to people who care for their partners at home in situations which they may not complain about, but which can be very stressful and lonely.

Bristol’s Singing for the Brain group was the subject of a moving BBC documentary which we saw last night. Music, said the organisers of the Bristol group, is one of the few things that everyone can do and enjoy together, however mentally distant some of them may seem to be.

The programme showed how people whilst unable to speak coherently, were word and pitch perfect as they sang. The leader of the group says on the Bristol website “I think it’s a range of things that make Singing for the Brain appealing – the companionship, the support and the love you see within the group. Within a couple of weeks of a new person joining they say that they feel an overwhelming sense of belonging. “It is brilliant for the carers to have someone else taking responsibility and lovely for people to be able to do something together.” On the TV programme there were some remarkable sequences as, sitting in a great circle, people sang and then danced, without it being at all clear who were those suffering from dementia and those who were not.

Several carers and their partners who are part of the group were interviewed in their homes. It was astonishing the bond that remained between them and their determination to stay together despite such difficulties as people not knowing who their husband or wife are, and constantly saying ‘I want to go home’ ( a poignant phrase). One husband said their main connection was tactile – he had become more demonstrative as time went on because it was now the main means of communication between them.

It was a deeply moving programme, highlighting the darkness of Alzheimer’s, the fear of which ageing people as myself shrink from– there are one million who are affected by the condition in the U.K. – but full of light and hope and love as well.