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I’d heard about music being a key way to communicate with people with dementia but hadn’t done much about it when I saw the BBC site of snippets of songs from decades. My Mum’s life began in 1926 so I started by listening to the ’20s and ’30s lists. I was surprised to find many songs I recognised from our family radio in the Fifties.

I started to practice singing some of the songs and downloaded lyric sheets. I then got my son and his son involved in playing and singing a small selection to my 92 year old mum in her carehome. Many people have responded warmly to the video we made of this visit.

 

After making this I realised that one or two things might be awry. One is that two of the songs are from the USA, and as the BBC radio in the period of her youth broadcast mainly live music, rather than playing 78rpm discs, it may be they were not in circulation in Nottingham. The BBC had a monopoly of the airwaves and was conservative in taste avoiding anything too vulgar or too ‘hot’ as in jazz! So she might not have heard these two songs, ‘Red Red Robin’ and ‘Bye Bye Blackbird’, until they were released in Britain in the Fifties. That’s maybe why I knew them so well. Henry Hall’s ‘Teddy Bears Picnic’ is a British hit song and the band that issued it was the BBC orchestra from 1932 – 37.

The second thing was that the songs that can break through the dementia communication barrier are often from out teenage years, when we choose ‘our own’ musics and these tunes get associated with the formation of our selves. Mum was only thirteen in 1939 – so maybe I should have been looking more at wartime songs? Flanagan and Allen’s ‘Run Rabit Run’ was one such song we did use in our session. Never mind, it was all a positive experience and I hope the video will inspire other people to try something similar.

The project has lead me to have an appreciation of the very lively popular music scene in the UK which seems to have been a mix a US jazz inspired dance bands and music-hall comedy soloists. Joan may have been too young to go out to the dance bands that must have played in Nottingham – except for a few years in the middle to end of the War when she was working as a nurse. She got married to a Polish Mosquito pilot and moved to Central London in 1947. But then I was born in February 1948 so that would have limited her social life in London to some extent. There are a lot of questions that I’ll sadly never have answers to.

Joan has always danced since she’s been in the Carehome – but not sung. It was only in the last year that I got more confidence in my own singing and started singing a bit to her. We never used to sing together at home. My mum’s mum Daisy worked in service in her young years and perhaps picked up that raucous working class sing-songs were a bit vulgar.

‘Playlist for Life’ is somewhat like my Agit Disco Dispersal idea – the suggestion that our lives have a musical accompaniment and a version of our life stories may be told in the musics that grab us at key times. If we do get dementia later in life this could be useful to our close relatives.

https://www.playlistforlife.org.uk/what-is-a-playlist

The Agit Disco project, of which this blog is a close relation, is archived here:

http://www.stefan-szczelkun.org.uk/agitdisco/

and is still available as a paper book from several sources.

Other links relating to music and memory:

https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/your-support-services/singing-for-the-brain

http://www.livemusicnow.org.uk/wellbeing_older_people

http://musicformymind.com

 

 

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