EASTBOURNE VOLUNTEERS WITH HELEN BURTON: Debra’s musical drive to help dementia patients

Debra Skeen. Picture by Lucy Carnaghan SUS-170628-114534001
Debra Skeen. Picture by Lucy Carnaghan SUS-170628-114534001

This week Debra Skeen writes about her work using music to help dementia patients:

Most of us enjoy music in one form or another, be it listening to music or participating in some way, maybe singing in a choir or playing in a band or group together. As we age, some of us find our memories falling into decline but research shows that the music functions of the brain including music memory do not appear to be as affected as other parts are. Music making, especially together, can facilitate improvements in social and communication skills and can lift depression for everyone. Listening to and playing music also reduces chronic stress by lowering the stress hormone cortisol.

In my Music for the Brain sessions it would appear that many of those living with dementia have a temporary respite from that which seems to swallow up the original personality and, during the music-making hour, many show mood improvement and increased communication skills. These may be short lived after the session but carers have commented on how some behavioural issues are not as difficult to deal with after these sessions.

An American company, Music and Memory, has done lots of work in care organisations which show consistent results. Participants are happier and more social, relationships among staff, participants and family deepen. Everyone benefits from a calmer, more supportive social environment and staff regain valuable time previously lost to behavioural management issues.

Music improves quality of life- can you image a world without it? No atmospheric background in film/TV, only news and chat on the radio (although for those of us who are Radio 4 fans maybe it’s an escape?) No concerts, no recordings, no means of expressing emotion other than spoken or written word...

We all appreciate music to a lesser or greater degree and EVERYONE CAN SING! Granted not everyone can sing as well as they might like to but everyone can join in and I, for one, am not looking for perfection in these Music for the Brain sessions. The purpose is to involve everyone and to have fun joining in songs we all remember and even learning some new ones. We do a little work on breathing which increases lung capacity and increases blood flow to the brain and also incorporate some action songs to help with mobility and help to challenge the brain to fire up the synapses.

To quote Lisa S. Lewis from Love’s Road Home “Music was a balm for any weary soul. It could either lift a person out of the doldrums or comfort him if there was no other solace to be had.” As a Dementia Friend’I currently hold a monthly Music for the Brain session in the Phoenix Centre in Lewes and would dearly like to extend into surrounding areas and into care homes. For more information please contact me at enquiries@debraskeen.co.uk

Debra will be at the next community networking meeting at the Tesco Community Space, Lottbridge Drove on Monday July 31, 7-9pm. Hope to see you there.