The Salvation Army has launched a dynamic program for people with dementia which uses singing to help them connect with others and bring back memories.
The scheme, called Singing By Heart, uses a mix of popular hymns, such as ‘Joy in my Heart’, and popular songs like ‘Moon River’, which span the decades. Each song has been carefully selected to ensure they’re fondly recognised by the people in the groups.
It is widely acknowledged that music can trigger past memories and feelings in those living with dementia. Each song begins with a passage of scripture and finishes with a prayer. The sessions are designed to encourage communication, recollection of memories, and happy thoughts for those taking part. It is also hoped carers will find the sessions beneficial through enabling time for them to relax, make friends, and share experiences.
Bill, 86, has been bringing his wife Anita to the Singing by Heart session at Sedgley since October after being recommended by a friend. Anita, 81, has been living with anxiety and memory loss for the past 2 years, unable to remember events within a very short amount of time. Bill says: “Singing by Heart is the one day in the month when I can see Anita full of life and engaged in an activity. It’s amazing to see her being sociable with others, and it’s like she’s back to her previous self. I’ve found it difficult to get any positive responses from Anita in the past but the enthusiasm and humour of the leaders at Singing by Heart is the key to its success. We were even up doing the hokey cokey at the last meeting. Every month our daughter comes with us to the session and it’s seeing Anita smile again that keeps us coming back to spend this special time together as a family.”
Ivy, 85, has attended the Sedgley Singing by Heart group since last September. She takes two buses from her house to attend and says she “really looks forward to it”. Ivy said: “I’m a firm believer that everybody loves music and the happiness it can bring.
“My mother suffered for many years with dementia and I really think she would have enjoyed a group like this. Seeing everyone connect with the music in the room is wonderful. Caring for someone with dementia can be so hard and sometimes a smile is all you want. That is what Singing by Heart can offer.”
The idea to bring Singing by Heart to The Salvation Army was introduced by Lee Highton-Nicholls, who is the regional specialist for the church and charity’s older peoples ministries based in Birmingham. Lee has 12 years’ experience working in dementia care, and wanted to use The Salvation Army’s musical legacy to bring those living with dementia and their carers together in an enjoyable and supportive way.
Lee said: “After working with people living with dementia for many years I was interested to see how we could create an experience for people to engage in prayer, bible reading, and worship. Singing always seems to enable the individuals involved to connect with others around them in a unique way. We are very excited to see Singing by Heart being rolled out to groups across The Salvation Army to connect with people living with dementia and their carers. We believe it offers people the opportunity to enjoy singing together in a relaxed and fun way; whilst offering a way of connecting spiritually through prayer and scripture readings.”
The singing groups have been piloted in partnership with our music ministries team in a number of The Salvation Army’s churches with the hope of rolling the programme out to more areas around the UK and Republic of Ireland in the near future.
For each church to run a singing group they must first take a “Dementia Friends” course, an Alzheimer’s Society initiative. A song lyric book and training video has been produced by The Salvation Army to support the programme.
The Salvation Army is dedicated to supporting older people and runs 13 residential care homes around the UK, as well as befriending services, day centres and a range of activities to combat isolation.
Andrew Wileman, Assistant Director of Older Peoples Services at The Salvation Army, said: “At The Salvation Army we believe everyone has equal value and is loved by God. Often people with dementia can be overlooked, and our local churches are at the forefront of welcoming older people to weekly lunches, clubs, and activities. These activities are not only important in communities to help combat loneliness and isolation, but we also see older people with dementia and their carers coming to us in need of support.
“We believe Singing by Heart can be used by Salvation Army churches and centres, as well as other church denominations, to connect with people who live with dementia, while also providing them and their carers a social situation and support network.”