Help for people with dementia

January 19, 2020 in Blog

Finding your memory bumps

What songs instantly make you smile? I bet most of them take you back to your teenage years. My list includes Jason and Kylie’s ‘Especially for You’ (I skipped school to watch the wedding), Sinatra’s ‘Nice n Easy’ and the theme from Trumpton. For Jean Pyle, an 87 year-old living with dementia, it’s ‘I Love You Because’. Seeing her face light up on hearing it is a beautiful moment and a testimony to the power of music.

Sarah Metcalfe knows all about that. She works with a charity called Playlist for Life which uses music to connect with people suffering from dementia. She says “It’s about recognising that we all have a musical identity, even when dementia makes it hard to connect to a person. That musical identity is easier to reach because music is so neurologically special. So, if you can track down the tunes, you’ve got a way of connecting with them. It’s about relating to somebody through the music that brings them alive.”

Scientists say that between the ages of 10 and 30 we create more memories than at any other time of our lives, and that includes those relating to the music we love. Sarah likes to call these “memory bumps”. By focusing on the music that a person would have been listening to at that time, you’ll find their memory bumps and, using them, it’s possible to make a very quick connection. You can see on the video how Jean is taken back to 1964 when she was slow-dancing to Jim Reeves. Whatever troubles might have been on her mind are forgotten, just for a moment. So effective is music to comfort patients, some GPs actually prescribe “playlist before medication”.

As a Music Therapist, Luke Annesley knows more than most about what music can do. “What’s a covers band, after all, but a group trying to guess other people’s memory bumps?” he told me, “I think the approach is specific to dementia but it relates to aspects of how we all experience music.”

As a performer, I‘m acutely aware of my listeners and am always trying to include the songs that trigger their memory bumps. It’s a short circuit to getting an emotional response. Thinking about it, most of the songs I sing are my own memory bumps, which is probably why I always look so happy when I’m on stage. Come to think of it, maybe I should start singing the theme to Trumpton. Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew…

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