Singing brings harmony to sufferers of dementia

Dementia is not something anyone would like to associate with their own future.

Rutland Reminders’ volunteers get together for a singing session. They are from left, Clare Hitchcox, Pam Houlden, Janet Berridge, Dr Charles Lawrence, Diana Ellard, Ann Thomas, Mike Gee, Ruth Thomas-Twinn and Gill Lawrence.

Published on Sunday 7 October 2012 07:00

Dementia is not something anyone would like to associate with their own future.

Unless you have had direct experience of it, usually by way of an elderly relative, it’s a thing, like death, that most of us don’t like to think about.

And yet the World Heath Organisation describes dementia as the next global health time bomb: one in four people over 65 will develop it.

A huge worldwide increase in numbers is largely down to increased longevity. The Alzheimer’s Society estimates there are 800,000 sufferers in the UK, only a minority of whom have been diagnosed and who are mostly looked after by an estimated 600,000 unpaid carers.

Rutland Reminders is a group that was set up by a teacher in 2010 to help local sufferers.

And whereas singing wouldn’t be the first form of therapy that would spring to mind, the group’s singing sessions have been a huge success during the past two years.

The benefits of singing for people with a range of medical conditions has been proven.

Results can be extraordinary – people with breathing difficulties breathe more easily and Parkinson’s sufferers gain a strengthened voice and reduced tremor.

There is also the social benefit of singing in a group – think of the feelgood effect choirmaster Gareth Malone and his military wives had on the nation.

Rutland Reminders promotes the positive aspects of singing together for people with dementia and their carers.

Even dementia sufferers who no longer recognise their own family members can often recall songs from their childhood or pop favourites. They sing songs from the First World War through to today and the group has its own 100-strong songbook. Afternoon get-togethers are rounded off with cups of tea and chat.

Rutland Reminders was set up by Dr Charles Lawrence from Oakham, a former Oakham School teacher, after his retirement. He is currently chairman. “I had organised groups of boys and girls from Oakham School and before that at Winchester College to visit the elderly. When I retired in 2000 I continued to visit them and found increasing numbers were contracting dementia,” he said.

He and a group of like-minded individuals set up a support group which received help initially from the Alzheimer’s Society, but has remained independent.

Two sessions a month are held at Brambles, the social centre at Rutland Care Village and, since 2011, an outreach group visits the three Rutland residential homes which have secure dementia units – Chater House, Tixover House and Manton Hall.

The group is run by trustees with professional and financial support from sponsors, including the Rutland Trust, Rutland Lions and Lands’ End. There is no cost to participants who are classified as guests. The key personnel are the volunteers who attend training programmes for dealing with vulnerable adults, are CRB checked and are mentored. There are about 30 of them and the group is always looking for more.

One carer and volunteer, Ann Blackett of Kings Road, Oakham, said her family had been living with her mother’s Alzheimer’s for eight years.

“While nothing will bring her memory back, the combination of words and music helps her to reach memories I never knew she had. When she does sing the words she knows them all, it’s as if she reaches the end of a line and the next unrolls before her. Although she sometimes needs to be persuaded to get in the car, she really enjoys it. For carers, accepting the words dementia and Alzheimer’s can be difficult. Rutland Reminders is a place to meet and compare experiences over tea and biscuits and realise you’re not on your own.”

The group’s first singing sessions in 2010 attracted 12 guests and that number doubled for the second series. Dr Lawrence estimates they help about 10 per cent of Rutlanders with dementia at the Oakham sessions plus another 15 per cent through the outreach programme.

The group meets on the first and third Tuesdays of the month at Brambles at 3.45pm and at the second Tuesday of the month at one of the three care homes. It deals with people in all stages of dementia and they don’t offer advice – they just listen.

“Many are frail and fragile, 10 have died in the last two years. One or two of them have never spoken to me, they might respond to one of our songs by just moving a finger or their lips,” Dr Lawrence says.

For more details call Diana Ellard on 07779 413889 or visit website