United Against Dementia’s movement led by Alzheimer’s Society is helping thousands of people in the UK.
Around 100 people sang together in Cardiff on Monday to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Alzheimer’s Society. Songs included We Will Rock You by Queen and Christmas carols like Jingle Bell Rock.
Alzheimer’s Society organises Singing for the Brain, which are weekly held events all across the UK where people with dementia sing together in conference halls or churches.
“Music can be a very powerful tool to access memories,” says Terence Curran, associate director at Open University, which also celebrated its 50th anniversary at the event.
“It can create very powerful emotional responses deep within us. Music helps people remember events. A lot of people I interview are in their 80s and 90s and they can recall songs that they listened to 50, 60 years ago, and it is remarkable how reliable they are in remembering them.”
Sue Phelps is the Wales’ Operations Director of Alzheimer’s Society and since 2017 holds the title of MBE, which she was awarded due to her dedicated work against dementia.
“My mother has dementia and doesn’t know who I am. But she is a big Ella Fitzgerald fan and whenever I come visit her, she goes: ‘Ella is there?’ and we just sing. The last song we always sing before I leave is ‘(God Be With You) Till We Meet Again’,” she says.
“Sixteen years ago, I was at a Singing for the Brain session in Caerphilly. There was a gentleman with his wife who really did not want to be there. His wife said they had no real conversations at home. The man went outside the building in the rain when we started singing Gene Kelly’s ‘Singing in the Rain’ at which point he, still outside, sang every single word.
His wife said afterwards that they had conversations that lasted through the next day. The couple then came to the singing session every week,” Mrs Phelps says.
Relatives and friends of participants are welcome to sing along as audience members:
“I love it. I come to a church in Splott every Wednesday with Anne and my mum to support my dad Brian, who plays the drums in the choir. All these voices singing together combine thousands of years of experience and it sounds beautiful,” Ally Fitzpatrick says.
Helen Vincent-Tibke is a community music educator who, together with Maxine Bennett, engaged the audience at Monday’s event. Mrs Vincent-Tibke is also the founder of Singplicity, which organises singing sessions open to everyone.
“You’re building bridges between the carers and the person living with dementia. The carers sit down and sing with them. Singing music is very bonding. It’s often difficult to tell who the person living with dementia is and who the carer is.
At the start of each session we have a welcome song where we greet everyone by name. For some people, this is the only time in the week that they’re noticed. You become invisible anyway as you get older. The songs in the middle are new songs. At the end, we have a goodbye song,” Mrs Vincent-Tibke says.
“The sessions help ex-carers who don’t have anyone to sing with anymore. When you are a carer, you often have to find a new way of living when your patient passes away,” she says.