In the UK, the current number of people diagnosed with dementia is estimated to be just over 800,000 - and this number is rapidly rising owing to the aging population. Care UK and Manchester Camerata have appointed Manchester University to evaluate this current ten week block both during and after the sessions in Crewe.
Research, evaluation and evidence is the backbone of this work to examine the health and wellbeing benefits to all involved – from the participants and their carers to the Care UK residential home staff. In embarking on this new collaboration - both participating organisations aim to illustrate how creative interventions such as Music in Mind can help alleviate some of the symptoms of dementia and enrich the quality of life of people affected by it.
What is unique about Music in Mind’s approach to music therapy with people living with dementia is the way in which both musicians and music therapist work alongside each other. As the project’s lead therapist Greg Hanford - Director of music therapy services company Musability - explains:
“Manchester Camerata’s musicians are engaging not just as professional musicians with years of performance experience behind them, but also as people with a passion for music. They can use this love and their level of musicianship to co-facilitate group music therapy sessions with music therapists such as myself. And it is this original combination of music therapy expertise and orchestral musicians as co-group workers that is pioneering and leading the field.”
Learning and Participation work is at the heart of Manchester Camerata. Music in Mind is as much a learning experience for its musicians as it is for its participants. It offers them the opportunity to strip back their skills – to return to basics. It almost asks of them to unlearn all that they have learnt as professional musicians – in order to free themselves up to improvise and to engage on a humanistic and one to one level with the individual with dementia.
During the Music in Mind sessions, participants are able to pick up percussion instruments as and when they feel like it throughout each session. They are encouraged to tap and touch as the therapist and musicians join in alongside them. Song is often introduced at the request of the participant or when it arises naturally and spontaneously within a particular musical improvisation. When it does, both the therapist and participating musicians simply add harmonic support. Each session is different - as the focus is always on the participants and centred entirely on what they express an interest and a desire in doing.
As a longstanding trumpeter within the orchestra Helen Quayle explains, “Each session begins – not when I pick up my instrument to play a tune but when a participant initiates it. I have to go against my natural instinct to lead. The key to each Music in Mind session is that it is participant led. This experience is organic in its purest sense and very liberating for professional musicians, such as myself.”
This collaborative project has been made possible through the Care UK Wellbeing Foundation, a charity set up by Care UK to give back to the community at company level, and support initiatives which reflect the organisations core values. The theme for the foundation’s inaugural year is ‘promoting wellbeing through the arts’. To support this theme, the Foundation wanted to invest in research which would help improve the wellbeing of more vulnerable communities in society - including those living with dementia.
The aim of the research conducted by Dr John Habron at Coventry University was essentially to identify the impact of group music therapy with orchestral co-facilitators on people living with dementia and their carers. It was concluded, following this qualitative study, that Music in Mind improved quality of life; enhanced relationships with others; increased confidence; improved sense of identity and of well being and it stimulated long term memory. The impact for carers and their families was equally as positive.
This Music in Mind project will also have a positive impact on the staff who care for them. Care UK’s Head of Dementia, Maizie Mears-Owen, comments: “We have long known about the benefits of music for a person’s wellbeing. However, there is also a lot to gain for the carer as they can develop a stronger bond with the people they support, and feel greater fulfilment in their role. We hope to take learnings from this project and replicate best practice in our other care homes and day clubs.”
Bob Riley Chief Executive of Manchester Camerata concludes:
”In recent years there has been an increase in arts and creative interventions and engagements with dementia sufferers and we as a leading Chamber orchestra equally as passionate about our learning work as we are about our public performances, are delighted to be a part of this trend. But what is particularly exciting is that through this unique partnership with Care UK and independent music therapist, Greg Hanford – we are able to bring something new to the creative intervention arena. We are able to offer people living with dementia the chance to engage with music and musicians in a completely natural and holistic way. And hopefully as a result we can make a real difference to their quality of life.”