Facilitating Singing for the Brain

A couple of Fridays ago I visited the Singing for the Brain group in Old Basing – led by Sue, an experienced http://www.flickr.com/photos/exper/2527797566/singing facilitator. It was a good opportunity to see some best practice in action in the area of singing with people living with dementia.

The group was quite large – over thirty, including visiting facilitators like me, carers, volunteers and Alzheimer’s Society employees. I particularly enjoyed the feeling of ‘expansiveness’ that the facilitator created; it was a space where anything was possible – and yet it was a safe space too. This is something I am looking to better achieve in my practice, and I think it will come as I gain in confidence and clarity.

Singing for the Brain is an idea which many facilitators and local Alzheimer’s Society branches have picked up and run with. It’s been so successful it is now becoming a core service of the charity and a new specification has been written to help guide the groups to have the most positive effect, leaving enough flexibility to take into account each groups’ uniqueness.

The main message I took from discussion with other facilitators is what Singing for the Brain is not: it’s not a sing-a-long! Trying to uncover what it actually is is more challenging as the framework has been developed through years of practice and research and includes complex ideas about emotional memory and something called neuroplasticity (I’ll let you know when I know!). At the simplest level, Singing for the Brain sessions must have a beginning, a middle and an end – this might sound obvious, but finding a good song to end on, or a way of rounding of or cooling down a session can be trickier than it first seems.  It is important to use movement, for a variety of reasons: for gentle aerobic exercise, and to keep joints moving, to help participants remember words, and evoke feelings and memories, and to encourage connections between both sides of the brain by using movements which cross the central line of the body – for example at Old Basing, the facilitator used small beanbags which the participants passed from hand to hand in time to a pulse.

Obviously singing is the central part of the session, and the majority of the time is taken up singing songs, either from memory or from song sheets, and also incorporating harmony through part-songs, rounds and partner songs (2 songs sung on top of each other). There is also a strong sense of pulse running throughout, which helps connect people (this makes me think about entrainment theory) and gives a backdrop to activities such as tongue-twisters and rhythmic ditties such as Hickory Dickory Dock.

I’m really excited about the possibilities of Singing for the Brain because of the improved social, physical and mental health of people living with dementia, a disease for which a medical cure seems a long way off, but for which social coping strategies are being put in place by the fantastic work of The Alzheimer’s Society.

If you want to join in the conversation about singing with people living with dementia please leave a comment or join the WellSing network where there is a new discussion thread on this topic.

7 thoughts on “Facilitating Singing for the Brain

  1. Joy Old

    I am hoping to start a singing class with clients who attend our Therapy Centre for work with dementia.
    I would appreciate any help and guidance you can give me
    Kind Regards
    Joy Old

  2. Paul

    Hi … my mother has Alzheimer’s and I just know that this would be so good for her. She lives on the Wirral. Is there any “singing for the brain” in the area please?
    If anyone has any info or suggestions, please, please send to me so I can help my Mum …. karapaul@gmail.com
    Thank you

  3. ann

    I am a fitness tutor with Bucks.C.C and would like to visit a local group, meanwhile how do you become a facilitator? presuming that is the person that leads the group? I would love to find out, thanks Ann

  4. Rachel Post author

    Hello Sue, I would love to hear more about your work.

    To train as a Singing for the Brain facilitator, the best thing to do is to contact your local Alzheimer’s Society and enquire about existing SftB groups.

    Good luck!

  5. catherine

    Hi Rachel,
    I learned the powerful effect of singing on the brain a year ago as my sister Susanna was dying of ovarian cancer that had metastastcized to her brain.
    It had become increasingly difficult for her to communicate with us. One day as our brother was sitting with her she decided she needed to remember “words” to take with her to Heaven. As she was struggling to think of any words, he suggested they try to sing the words. A wonderful Holy Hootenanny ensued with Susanna joyfully singing along, her singing-mind remembering what her speaking-mind could not. Isn’t it amazing, the power of music?
    I have since then been wanting to sing with people with brain damage or dementia. I learned about this program, but am not seeing anything about using it here in the US. Do you know of any programs in the US or how I might get something started here?
    Thank you so much for any help you might give me.

  6. Debbie

    Hi I would love to attend a singing for the brain group. My Mum has alzheimer’s and a stroke and we can only get about by wheelchair is their any group in Ruislip/South Harrow area.Maybe I could help start one if anyone else is interested.

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