“The essence of good dementia care is human connection, and music lets us do that”
Lucy Frost, Dementia Specialist Nurse, Sussex Community NHS Trust.
I was quite surprised to be contacted from someone whose service was mentioned in one of my books, Towards Outstanding: A Guide to Excellence in Health and Social Care. The person who contacted me said, "I'm one of the musicians that you wrote about, working with an elderly patient on the ward there. We were so delighted to be included in your book and really appreciated your insight and understanding into what it is we're actually doing with music." That feedback is so nice to receive - and it shows me that people providing high quality care enjoy their work far more than those burdened with mediocracy.
The service Jo and her colleagues were providing went far beyond a speaker blaring out 'Its a long way to Tipperary' ; they could see that their music reached people in a way some attempts to use music didn't - a bit like a famous beer advert. I agreed to spread the word for her and share her details in case any other providers were interested. I don't usually do a sales pitch for people, but this was a truly magical moment.
This was the excerpt that I included;
"We went onto an elderly care ward about an hour or so after lunch had finished. It was very quiet, almost silent, with most patients appearing to be enjoying an afternoon nap. One or two visitors were starting to arrive and spoke quietly with the staff at the nurses’ station or sat by their relatives.
The Admiral Nurse consultant told me that there was to be music. I groaned inwardly, expecting a sort of loud, vintage, karaoke session. I put on my ‘How lovely’ face and continued down the ward beside him. Still quiet.
I was beginning to wonder whether he’d got the wrong ward. He guided me into a bay of about six elderly women, most of whom were beginning to wake up and call out. One person, Violet, was still dozing in her bed, her hands rapidly twiddling her blanket. She’d been admitted during the previous night and had been very unsettled and frightened, apparently.
There were two women standing close by her.
One had a violin and one a bag of other instruments. They gathered around her and then the violinist started playing at a volume akin to a whisper. Not much response. Very quietly, the other woman started singing, “I’m forever blowing bubbles”. Violet's eyes remained tightly shut but her jaw moved, almost imperceptibly, in time to the music. Then, as they increased the volume very slightly, her lips started mouthing the words. No sound, no drama, almost as if she were singing it to herself as she worked at something; her lip movements became more recognisable, her fingers twitched less rapidly and moved in time to the music.
Violet’s two daughters arrived towards the end of the song, clearly anxious and keen to see how their mother was. At the end of the song, Violet opened her eyes, looked at the musicians with a huge smile and said, “That was beautiful”.
Her daughter cried and later said her mother had not engaged meaningfully with anyone for a few months prior to this.
The Wishing Well - Music for Health website with full details of their work and how to contact them can be found at Wishing Well Music in Healthcare - Live interactive Music for Well Being in Healthcare settings.
There are lots of lovely stories of excellence in all sorts of health and social care settings contained within my main text, which is available from Health and Social Care | Pavilion Publishing (pavpub.com) along with a reflective journal, a care home development guide and a training pack for health and social care staff.
How do you use music in your work? How do you choose which music is played? Do you sing when you are happy, or do you think that might be considered unprofessional?