Music students add dementia therapy to their bow

A partnership between a community care village and a local college is seeing students act as intergenerational music guides for people living with dementia, with noticeable improvements in sociability and mood.

Music students at Cheshire College South & West, who are all aged 16-19, have been visiting the state-of-the-art Belong care village in Crewe twice a week to perform, with sessions tailored to the musical tastes and life experiences of residents and visitors.

Commenting on the benefits for residents and visitors to Belong Crewe, experience coordinator Natalie Ravenscroft, who was one of the architects of the project, said: “We’ve witnessed lots of very positive responses from people attending the performances. Everyone has been more animated and interactive afterwards. People living with dementia who are unable to communicate in other ways have been tapping their feet and singing along, and some have even been dancing. For many, it has brought back lost memories as a result of conversations prompted by the sessions.

Music students from Cheshire College South and West
perform for residents of Belong Crewe and visitors.

“The benefits for the students have been evident as well. Apart from counting towards the work experience they have to undertake, they’ve told us that they are very grateful for the new perspective they’ve gained by engaging with people with dementia; which they otherwise wouldn’t have done.”

Natalie says that, in addition to people who are normally uncommunicative responding animatedly, the music sessions have generated a sense of anticipation for activities at the village, with people turning up early when the students are performing. Also, as a result of conversations prompted by old memories rekindled by the music, staff have got to know more about the people they care for.

To mark the success of the initial nine-month intergenerational initiative, the musicians performed a celebratory concert for the Belong community at the college in June this year, with residents making up VIP guests amongst the audience.

Commenting on the finale concert, Belong Crewe day care customer, Brian McLaughlin, said: “I absolutely loved it. The students are very talented, and the song choices were great. Some of the performances, including songs by Doris Day, took me back to some very happy times.”

The aim of the programme, which received funding from the local council, was to create a musical therapy initiative to support residents with health needs including dementia, while promoting interaction between people of different generations within the local community. The time the students have spent engaged in the project also contributes to the 45 days’ work placement that they are required to complete during their studies as part of the government’s national Industry Placement Pilot. This is ahead of the planned roll-out of the new T-level qualifications in 2021, which will replace all vocational qualifications.

Regardless of the outcome of the government pilot, the college vowed to continue to work with Belong and include the project in its syllabus, starting with this academic year. This time, it will also involve music technician students recording bespoke playlists for residents of Belong Crewe and its day care customers. Belong Crewe has secured funding from the local council’s Community Development scheme to purchase MP3 players for its customers for these purposes.

The scope of the project is also being widened this year to involve the Performing Arts Department at Cheshire College South & West and provide Art and Drama students with a chance to undertake a work placement at the care village as part of their studies.

Music therapists are set to be in high demand nationwide because new NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) quality standards, which provide guidance on improving care, recommend that music therapy is incorporated into health and social care settings. As a result, the partnership offers students a route to progress to work or on to study for a degree in music therapy.