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09 September 2015

United Kingdom: How the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra is Providing Relief for People with Dementia

Taking a bow at the BUDI orchestra summer
2014 concert.
I fell on this article by chance when looking for the 2015 Bournemouth University study on dementia.  It particularly speaks to me as a musician playing piano for persons afflicted with dementia.  Their response to the music - singing, tapping feet and hands, dancing - is wonderful to see.

Breakthroughs in Bournemouth: how the BSO is providing relief for people with dementia
by Harry T. White, The Guardian, 
22 June 2015

A new initiative launched by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and Bournemouth University is providing support to people living with dementia and their carers – with moving results

Fifteen months ago, Pam Winter’s husband Richard, now 75, was diagnosed with dementia. The couple, who live in Bournemouth, were enjoying an active retirement; they were season ticket-holders to the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and had a wide network of friends. But Richard’s diagnosis and the development of his illness were the catalyst for a dramatic change.

Pam soon noticed how their world had begun to narrow. “You don’t realise how lonely things can get, and how isolated you become,” she says. “It’s amazing how friends begin to back away.”

Their GP asked her if she was getting enough support. “Carers will often say, ‘I’m fine’, which I did, but [the GP] persisted. I admitted that actually, I wasn’t getting much help. The GP gave me details of memory clubs. We went along to one and, from there, we were invited to Bournemouth University to take part in a project. We were both a little daunted, but I was determined to lead us there together. And, well, it was just absolutely amazing.”

The project was the BUDI Orchestra, a collaborative partnership between a team of researchers at Bournemouth University Dementia Institute (BUDI) and Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. It was set up to provide immediate support and therapeutic relief for people living with dementia and for their carers, through interactive musical activities, while simultaneously using the experience to inform further research.

The seeds for the project were sewn five years ago when the director of BUDI, professor Anthea Innes, met with a BSO musician in Italy and discussed the orchestra’s community engagement . In December 2011, Innes joined Bournemouth University, and began to work on her idea of the BUDI Orchestra.

Last year, together with her assistant Laura Reynolds and their team, Innes implemented a 10-week programme of workshops that brought together BSO musicians and people with dementia and their carers, culminating with a concert in June. The sessions were supported by Bournemouth University Music scholars and student volunteers.

Participants were encouraged to learn new instruments, engage in body percussion and sing. Those who already played an instrument were invited to bring it to the sessions and play with the group. In each workshop, BSO musicians would tutor participants in their instruments, with everyone working towards the final public concert. The music ranged from popular songs such as You Are My Sunshine to classical favourites such as Ravel’s Boléro, all arranged so as to include every member of the group, regardless of their ability, with the BSO musicians filling in the gaps. The end result, the country’s first dementia concert, was a moving summer concert.

“We were aware of other community groups [for people living with dementia] focusing on singing, but they tended not to follow the norms of practise within professional and amateur ensembles, such as learning to play pieces for a performance,” says Innes. “We wanted to see if joining a music group that went beyond weekly singing would have an impact on the lives of people with dementia and their carers.”

In the end, it was the project’s collaborative ethos that yielded the most interesting results, revealing how those with dementia and their carers learn and perform together in a communal, creative context free from the challenging routine of their daily lives. “Social inclusion and a sense of community was an important, but an unexpected outcome for everyone that took part,” says Innes. “Progression with musical learning was clear for some of the people with dementia, and this gave them a sense of achievement and increased their confidence. Carers also felt happier as a result of attending the sessions, which provided them with respite. They also reported improvements in their relationship with the person with dementia. Coming to the group gave them something to talk about and look forward to.”

Pam agrees: “To actually be playing with musicians who we used to see on stage was absolutely overwhelming.” she says. “But it went further than that: there we all were; everybody understood; we all had the same problems, so we could all help each other, sympathise and share stories. Friendships have been developed between us as a result.”

The project also made an impact on the musicians themselves. BSO horn player Ed Lockwood says: “There were some participants who seemed to change quite dramatically over the weeks,” he says. “One chap who came to the group was a former bass player who had played jazz at the highest level. At first he barely participated. I don’t believe he had played for a long time, but slowly the old skills came back, and by the end he was providing the bassline to the music by ear. These kinds of things were lovely to watch and were incredibly poignant.”

One year on, and following several similar projects, Innes hopes the initiative will continue to develop. “This project was a ‘proof of concept’ study, and because we have gained such positive results, we’re excited about what this could mean for people with dementia in the future,” she says. “We have many new ideas in the pipeline as a result of this, although they are all dependent on funding.”

Pam believes the projects have been of inestimable value – not least as they allowed her and Richard to engage in an environment that wasn’t just about “caring”. “Music can unlock the mind. Richard’s confidence, conversation and recognition has definitely benefitted. In one session, the musicians started to play Moon River, and Richard and I danced. He even led, which I didn’t think he could still do. Sometimes you don’t know how you keep smiling, but you do; and it’s down to people and projects like this.”

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