Schools supporting music for all

This article was kindly written for the Music for Dementia website by Sunita Thakur (Class Teacher) at the Grove Park Academy School

If music be the food of on 

Whilst Shakespeare’s Orsino wanted music played in order to help him cure his lovesick heart; I have borrowed this phrase in order to emphasise the power that music has in helping those we love and care about. Particularly, if they are vulnerable, lonely or living with dementia.

Having watched the Dementia Choir headed up by Vicky McClure, which aired on the BBC in June 2019 and read “Where memories go” by Sally Magnusson, it is clear that music has a powerful therapeutic effect on people living with dementia. According to Playlist for life, a charity set up by Sally Magnusson to support dementia patients,

“Music is neurologically special in the way that it stimulates many parts of the brain at once. This means that even if parts of the brain are damaged, music can still reach other parts.”

Importantly, this statement is made with the backing of evidence from a variety of sources which concur that music ‘among sensory simulation interventions, the only convincingly effective intervention for reducing behavioural symptoms (specifically agitation and aggressive behaviour) was music therapy. Quite significantly in July of this year, the National Institue for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) updated its guidance on the treatment of dementia to include music therapy.

“Music in any form: singing, playing, performing or listening to can have a positive effect.”

Given the power of music there is a way in which schools can get involved to offer support.

What schools can do to support the community

At my school, Grove Park Primary in Sittingbourne, we organised a matinee show of our summer production Aladdin for people from local care homes. The afternoon was a great success, over 30 elderly people attended with carers; enjoyed a serving of tea or squash and biscuits whilst watching the show. It was a pleasure to see the smiles on their faces and to see the audience clapping along or tapping their toes to the beat of the tunes. This is something that every school can replicate as most schools will have a choir and many will put on either a Christmas or summer show; a lot of schools already will offer shows for over 55s but what I am suggesting is that every school gets involved. There is a school in every neighbourhood so if every school invited people from local care homes and/or vulnerable/ isolated people from within the neighbourhood to enjoy listening to the choir or watching a school production, schools can strengthen their community links.

We received really positive responses about our show and will definitely be repeating this next summer and hopefully at Christmas too!

The event itself did not take too much time and effort to organise:

  • An email to local care homes /Age UK outlining possible dates and times.
  • Risk assessment carried out to maintain safety of pupils and visitors
    • this included considering aspects such as medication for visitors, access to toilets and parking

On the 19th August, Music for Dementia launched a new Musical Care Taskforce charged with the aim of looking ‘at ways to bring music to people living with dementia who are not able to access music otherwise.’

As schools, I feel we can play a small but significant part in achieving that aim.

Sunita Thakur (Class Teacher)
Grove Park Academy School

Sandra Harris –Centre Manager for Age UK Sittingbourne Day Centre joined the company in April 2019 said

“During the month of July 2019 I received an email from Sunita Thakur from Grove Park Academy School inviting our clients to a summer production ‘Aladdin-Oap Show’; I accepted the invitation and sent a minibus with clients and care staff to the production.  The feedback I have received from the clients was that they enjoyed themselves and felt very welcome. They all wanted to say a big thank you to the children, who were in the production, including the teachers and other organisation/s involved in making their day so special.

Going forward I would like to continue working in partnership with Grove Park Academy School; being a lover of music myself and the therapeutic benefits it has to all age groups. Our older people with dementia living in our community may only experience this kind of support once or twice a year, therefore I believe that Grove park school is doing a fantastic job to support the community. I echo what Sunita has said above “Music in any form: playing, performing or listening to can have a positive effect”.

Having worked in the care industry for more than 25 years, 10 of which I worked as a manager, the need for our younger generation contributing to assist and support our older generation to cope with the challenges they face such as dementia, ill health, isolation, lessen independence is vital in preservation of dignity, increase longevity of life, enabling and promoting maximum independence. I would like to say that at Age UK Sittingbourne Day Centre we promote the wellbeing of all our clients ensuring that we work as a team and welcome collaboration, partnership with other agencies such as schools to make the clients experience fulfilling and enjoyable on a daily basis.”

Abraha I, Rimland JM, Trotta FM, et al Systematic review of systematic reviews of non-pharmacological interventions to treat behavioural disturbances in older patients with dementia. The SENATOR-OnTop series BMJ Open 2017;7:e012759. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2016-01275

Gerdner LA. Individualized music for dementia: Evolution and application of evidence-based protocol. World J Psychiatry.
2012;2(2):26–32. doi:10.5498/wjp.v2.i2.2

Nice Guidelines- People with dementia should be offered activities that can help promote wellbeing

Where Memories Go: Why Dementia Changes Everything
 Book by Sally Magnusson –

Playlist for life –

Dementia Choir –

Music for Dementia launches/