Telegraph article about Sing for your Life

13 Mar 2014

Lost Chord and Sing For Your Life bring musical memories for dementia patients

A wedding invitation I received a few years ago stipulated: "No presents please but donations to Lost Chord". I duly did as asked without taking too much notice of the description of the charity's work – save that it involved musicians entertaining in dementia units. Recently when I received an email about an NHS research project into the use of singing in dementia care, Lost Chord came back to mind.

The three month Kent and Medway NHS project – with the help of another charity called "Sing For Your Life", which provides backing tracks for use in dementia care homes – has proved the positive impact that singing can have on dementia patients. Apart from the obvious pleasure the patients obtain from being reminded of music from their lives and the enjoyment of using their voices to sing, the sessions also produce the hugely beneficial and remarkable result of a "50 per cent decrease in levels of challenging behaviour."

It is known that the area of the brain associated with music remains responsive well after a person's ability to speak has disappeared. I know that my mother-in-law – whose dementia is severe and speech is almost impossible for her – will join in with me if I sing the songs of her youth, particularly the music hall songs which were still in vogue as she was growing up.

The two charities – Lost Chord and Sing For Your Life – are both working with the same aims and objectives, but in a different manner.

Lost Chord was founded in 1999 by Helena Muller, who was working voluntarily for Live Music Now and who "was balled over by the impact of music on people who might show no sign of life whatsoever, be slumped on a bean bag on the floor but, with the introduction of music, this miracle happened whereby they slowly seemed to come to life, open their eyes, make eye contact, move to the beat of the music and sometimes mouth the words or sing to a familiar song." Unlike Sing For Your Life, Lost Chord uses professional musicians of all kinds. As Helena said, "Piano, harp, baritone, tenor, soprano, viola, violin, clarinet, oboe, flue, cello, guitar – you name it, we have it!" The musicians visit residential homes and care centres where they, not only entertain their audiences, but involve them too, encouraging them to use percussion instruments, clap or sway to the rhythm, sing along, dance or, simply, sit back and enjoy the session.

Having won a GSK Impact Award, the charity has been able to expand from South Yorkshire into Nottinghamshire ad Derbyshire. Helena has "a dream that every person with dementia will be able to access the services of Lost Chord and, with sufficient funding, we could cover the country." In order to provide the care homes and day centres with musicians – who are paid a nominal amount for their work – £280,000 per year is needed. The clamour for concerts has resulted in Lost Chord's "High Notes" appeal, to raise an extra £103,400 to provide another 40 residential homes with one concert a month for a whole year.

Sing For Your Life offers a Music Box which is best described as a sophisticated karaoke machine, with customised programmes (pitch and speed can be altered easily) carried on memory sticks. The machine is plugged into the television and, as with karaoke, the words appear on the screen, complete with counted pauses. There are 200 pieces, including hymns – the latter programme enables care homes to offer Sunday services – and work is under way to produce programmes for the Punjabi community and in Nepalese for the Gurkhas.

Stuart Brown launched the charity in 2005, but it was only when Adrian Bawtree (organist at Canterbury and Rochester Cathedrals and Musical Director at Christ's Hospital School) was introduced to a method of recording the necessary music, that the Music Boxes were developed -described by Stuart as "21st century pianolas, with memory sticks instead of paper cylinders".

The Music Boxes are either bought (£1,400 plus VAT, which includes training and constant programme updates) or rented at £50 per month. Grants from The Lottery and charitable organisations fund the Music Boxes – with added help from public donations.

Although Lesley Garrett – one of the patrons of Lost Chord, along with Sir Cliff Richard and Dame Vera Lynn – was referring to a musician, her quote must apply equally to the carers and nurses looking after dementia patients. Lesley said "To see a smile on a face of someone who hasn't smiled for many months is a very special moment. For a musician who has touched the heart of a person with dementia, the joy is incomparable."

The research project proved also that when residents and carers joined together in a singing or music session, the whole atmosphere in the care home changed and there was a "noticeable improvement on the mood and well being of the patients, staff and visitors".

Perhaps the staff in those homes where there is nothing artistic on offer – and a blaring television set has replaced proper care – might put the welfare of their patients first and give music a chance.


Link to Telegraph orginal article on their website: