Hearing my father sing for the first time

A case study by Live Music Now

Diagnosed with mixed dementia in 2007, John (aged 82) has suffered a lot of trauma in recent years – losing his wife and then his son soon afterwards. He then moved to Sabrina House Shropshire to be closer to his daughter and has spent time there in residential care. Although he has settled in, his family say he was finding it difficult to make friends and was reluctant to join in activities, choosing instead to remain in his room for most of the day.

In August 2016 John began taking part in music sessions with Live Music Now musicians Joe & Jess at Sabrina House as part of the New Age Music project. The care home staff quickly saw how John engaged with the music, singing along and playing percussion instruments. They mentioned this to John’s daughter, Linda, who regularly visits her father.

Linda found reports of singing difficult to believe. She had never once heard her father sing, not even happy birthday. Linda was able to go along to one of the sessions and hearing her father sing for the first time was a very emotional experience. She says it gave them a connection that she hadn’t felt before. John also suffers from bad anxiety attacks due to his dementia, usually occurring 2-3 times during a typical visit. On the days where John had taken part in the music sessions Linda noted that he didn’t experience any panic attacks.

Live Music Now Musician

In their regular sessions Joe & Jess asked the residents to share meaningful objects with the group as a platform for music making together. John chose to bring along his campaign medal for veterans of the Malayan emergency which Linda says is something he rarely talked about before having dementia. Over the weeks the musicians experimented with different percussion instruments, improvising around the objects shared by residents and recording the results. They also took requests from the group and care home staff to ensure repertoire would be familiar and engaging. For them the experience was also significant:

“One of the residents, John, seemed to be enjoying our sessions – he was attending and taking part along with everyone else. It was to our great surprise that we were later informed that John never spends time in the common areas of the home, and that the music seemed to be a way for him to connect with the other residents. Even more pleasing was the response we received from John’s daughter, who said that she had never ever seen her father sing, and yet in our sessions he did just that! She was so emotional and it was so great from our perspective that we could bring this happiness to both her and John, through our sessions focussing on basic music making. It’s these moments which make the job so satisfying!” – Joe Bronstein, LMN Musician.

Talking about the person-centred care approach, Linda says she feels she would rate her father’s wellbeing at a 4 or 5 when chatting to him on an average visit, but that during music sessions this increased to an 8 or 9:

“The Live Music Now project is wonderful. My Dad has been quite anxious for some time now but when he is in the music sessions he is relaxed and happy. I had never heard my Dad sing – it was always my Mum who did the singing so when the lovely staff at The Sabrina told me he had been singing I was excited to be able to hear for myself. I was able to join in the next session and it happened, there was my Dad singing and joining in. I was truly amazed to see the difference in him. I really found it was very emotional; I felt a very strong connection to my Dad. Now he sings with me in the car as we are driving around. I know that the project has given my Dad confidence and happiness.” – Linda Elliott.

‘For one resident who was quite new to the setting it definitely help her to settle in.  he joined us just before the music sessions. She is living with dementia. It was a big change for her to come into the Home.  The music was something that really suited her.  In fact she was speaking about it today. She’s very musical and she recognized pieces and ask for songs. She enjoys classical music and music in general. The impact on her was lovely. She’s more sociable and a lot more relaxed. he was very anxious when she came.  This helped to change this. It was the music project. There was nothing else I can put on for her. I didn’t know what music she  liked.  Doing this activity together gave something that helped me learn about her and about what interests her. If I simply ask this she would say I can’t remember.’

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