I was contacted a while back by a gentleman from Chattanooga in Tennessee wanting some advice on running singing groups for people living with dementia. I blithely emailed back saying that a blog post was in the pipeline on this very subject. Which was true, but the blog post grew longer and longer (there is so much to say) and the draft is still sitting here on my computer…. oops!
So imagine my delight in discovering the Sidney de Haan Centre for Arts and Health Research have produced several guides to singing with people with different health needs: dementia, COPD, mental health, Parkinson’s.
The dementia guide starts with a thorough introduction to dementia in the UK – approximate numbers, economic implications, current dementia policy, and the common symptoms that people might experience, with an emphasis on the unique impact of the disease on each person. There is also a brief explanation of the different models of understanding health – important for anyone working in supporting people living with chronic and/or long-term degenerative conditions. Clearly linked to Antonovsky’s ‘salutogenic’ model of health are the key areas that singing can address in people living with dementia: overall sense of wellbeing, communication, cognition and understanding, living in the world with others, organisation and structure, skills, and physical ability.
The guide goes on to evidence the areas of benefit through case studies of different projects and research literature. This, combined with guidance on how to conduct monitoring and evaluation provides support for funding proposals, an area also covered in the guide.
The pages on practice (pages 15-17) contain a comprehensive description of the skills and attributes needed to deliver successful, enjoyable singing groups, as well as suggested repertoire. The descriptions of the development of a song, for example, adding a chorus, a descant or a solo certainly helped me reflect on how I might continue to creatively use songs in this work. Becoming a music for health practitioner relies so much upon experiential learning, and there really isn’t any substitute for observation and supported learning with a mentor. Not to mention personal ongoing reflection.
This guide made me feel really fired up about the power of music for supporting the health and wellbeing of people living with dementia, and I’m looking forward to reading the other guides available for download on the website.