Melodies for the Mind

11 Jul 2012

The Times Newspaper – 10th July 2012

Mary Jenkins has advanced dementia. She has very little speech and is cared for during her waking hours by her daughter, Pat Clements. Ask her what day of the week it is and she is unable to tell you. But every Wednesday she knows she is going singing. That is the day she attends the Alzheimer’s Society’s Singing for the Brain group, run by Pat near their homes in Whitchurch, Bristol. “I have no idea how she knows it’s a Wednesday,” Pat says.“But  she gets quite excited. She has a good sense of rhythm and tells me when I am going to fast.” “It amazes me that even people with quite severe dementia seem to be able to recall music and enjoy it. They sing songs they knew when they were younger, but can also learn new ones and recall them the following week. You can see the sense of relief  come over them. Their shoulders go down and smiles come over their face. Some carers tell me the people they look after are more content and stable for the rest of the day and into the next.”

Research carried out at the Sidney De Haan Research Centre shows that choral singing has a clear effect on wellbeing. The researchers have identified a number of benefits, including engendering happiness and countering depression; distracting from everyday worries; controlling breathing, which reduces anxiety; and offering social support, which combats isolation and loneliness.

David Phelops, who runs the 50-strong Harrow Community Choir – funded by Rethink Mental Illness and aimed at users of the Mental Health services – aggress. “Choir members tell me they are more focused, happier and more energetic.” “Some have gone on to develop their musical skills. One young man with paranoid schizophrenia has returned to his trumpet since joining the choir. Others have formed a band. Some have joined a singing and composition course run by Live Music Now and will bring what they’ve learnt back to the choir.” “People can get lost in the fog of their illness and the drugs they take. They suffer a loss of confidence, stigma and fear. One man spent his first session in a corner mouthing the words. Within a year he was standing in front of the choir doing a solo.”