Music Matters in Lamlash


By the Rev. Lily McKinnon

Research shows that people living with dementia (and their carers) can become isolated and disconnected from the outside world. This can lead to frustration, depression, and aggression. Being more active in participation with others in stimulating activities has an uplifting effect, calms people and enables a sense of well-being. These aspects of dementia care and interaction are often overlooked in dealing with the demanding day to day personal care. For some carers it is 24/7 and lack of sleep, and lack of socialising can have a detrimental effect on them and on the care they are able to provide at home.

Music Matters seeks to bridge the ever-growing gap in community life by bringing people out of their homes and care homes and into the world they once recognised – meeting old friends, making new friends, reminiscing and engaging in conversation, music and song. We also have an area for dancing and it is a joy to see people up on the floor re-living former days. This is often their only outlet for physical activity with others and the smiles and laughter say it all. Wives, husbands, sisters, brothers get their loved one “back” for a couple of hours.

Music Matters can offer support to those who attend but also raises community awareness of dementia. Here I am in Arran where I found a lack of dementia knowledge and understanding in some professionals as well as relatives of those caring for family members. There was also a need for a safe, welcoming place to spend time together enjoying things long since neglected…and so Music Matters was reborn here! All our volunteers are Dementia Friends and we trained them through Alzheimers Scotland.

Research and our own evidence shows that re-connecting with the outside world in positive ways helps deal with aggressive behaviour which can be very difficult for carers to manage. Many living with dementia lose the impetus for activity and sit about or stay in bed. One lady told us that she has great difficulty every day getting her husband up but when she tells him they are going to sing (at Music Matters) he canʼt wait to get dressed and get out. Being more active in one area leads to increasing activity in other areas of life – walking, gardening, hoovering! and much more. The more active people are, the less aggressive they become and this makes caring safer as well as healthier for everyone.

Music Matters begins with a cuppa, home baking and a blether. Then we sing old favourites like ʻDaisy, Daisyʼ, Vera Lynn songs and hundreds more! The benefits are clear to see – joy, smiles, feet tapping, hands clapping – even soloists who are living with Dementia coming to the microphone and gladly singing their hearts out! One man in his eighties even sings in Gaelic but is not a Gaelic speaker. I have run these groups in previous churches and one lady saw her husband clap his hands in time to the music – she was sobbing – it was his first response to anything in 10 years!

People are living longer. Many of us want to live to a ripe old age but few of us want to grow old doing it! It is important in any branch of caring that we see the individual, see the PERSON. We need to remember that our elderly and those living with Dementia were young once – were lively, involved people with homes and work, and all sorts of interests. They have memories that may now be deeply hidden in the brain, but through music we can help revive some of these memories even if only for a short time until the next time!

Memories are a huge part of who we are. Music Matters fires the imagination through familiar songs, soothes the soul, and singing together brings a real sense of belonging- we are family. Research shows that both being happy is a RARE thing for those with dementia, and also that MUSIC is the last part of the brain that dementia destroys! Grant funding has helped Music Matters provide Ipod shuffles to our many friends living with Dementia. They made a lovely surprise Christmas present from Music Matters – a present which will benefit the individual as well as the carer.

Local string group ARCO playing at Music Matters summer 2018

It is possible to live well with dementia; it is about the individual, knowing them better, understanding them, enabling them to live well rather than always focussing on what they CANNOT do.

What I would like to see is Arran becoming a Dementia Friendly community and it is good to be part of the steering group discussing this. We aim to involve the WHOLE island – shop assistants, faith groups, businesses, police, fire and ambulance staff, bus drivers, school pupils, clubs and societies, community leaders, volunteers – people who are committed to working together and helping those living with dementia to remain a part of their community and not become cut off. It involves EVERY aspect of community life and EVERY person understanding dementia better and doing SIMPLE things to help – like being patient in the supermarket queue, smiling, talking clearly, listening and waiting till the person tries to find the word, patience when they are trying to count out money, finding things on shelves, crossing the road, all sorts of things can make such a difference if we are AWARE.

Shops and businesses having Dementia Friendsʼ Logo in prominent places, people
becoming Dementia Friends and wearing the badge. With dementia comes a loss of freedom, independence and control over daily life.

Some information about Dementia:

• In the UK in 2016 there were 850,000 people living with Dementia. It is reckoned that in 2024 this number will have risen to 1 million.
• There are currently 90,000 in Scotland.
• Dementia is more common among women than men.
• Researchers now suggest that one in three babies who were born in 2017 will go on to develop Dementia, unless a cure or a vaccine can be found.
• There is no cure at the moment.
• Dementia is not a natural part of growing old; it is a caused by diseases in the brain and takes various forms, the most common is Alzheimer disease.
• It is possible to have Alzheimer disease AND vascular Dementia at the same time.
Some people have another type of Dementia where they have hallucinations.
• It is not all about memory loss – for example, some people lose their decision-making ability, some are very confused, others are aggressive, frightened, some walk up and down all the time, some mutter all day to themselves, some forget to eat and others eat all the time – an added problem if they also have Diabetes.

Music Matters offers a haven, where if some start walking about, shouting out, swearing, wetting the chairs ….it’s ok. Singing together is such a simple thing to do, but it makes an ENORMOUS difference! And it is such a joy to see people smiling – it’s not just about remembering songs from days gone by – it stimulates conversation and it helps the carers have some joy in their lives too.

Music Matters is on the last Thursday afternoon of every month in Lamlash Church hall and is open to anyone living with dementia and their carer’s. They are always keen to hear from anyone interested in volunteering to help at the sessions as well.