Singing For Life

Author: Fr Chris Thomas

Picture: Nick Youngson, Blue Diamond

Singing For Life

Fr Chris Thomas shares how the Irenaeus Project is using singing to help dementia sufferers and carers.

One of our team often talks of getting a push in the back from God when it is time to do something.

Her “push” in the area of dementia came when a Bishop turned to her in a meeting about something completely different and said, 'I challenge you to do something about dementia'.

As a result of that challenge, which really was the voice of God speaking, a huge amount of work has taken place and God has blessed it.

We have had conferences with Professor June Andrews, one of the foremost experts on dementia in this country.

The Alzheimer's Society has trained dementia champions across the Diocese, who can then work in their own parishes to highlight the area. We have also joined the Dementia Alliance.

At Christmas, the first dementia-friendly carol service took place at the Cathedral. The Irenaeus project formed a choir on behalf of the Diocese. We are very blessed to have Sr Moira Meeghan as a team member, as she is a very able musician. She undertook to animate the choir.

Moved To Tears

Singing has a profound effect on those who are living with a dementia. It calms them and enables them to feel good even when they cannot remember what they have just done.

People in wheelchairs, who have not spoken for years and who sit staring at the floor, will suddenly come to life when the music starts.

It is an extraordinary sight. The words of well-loved songs come back to their lips and they often sing with great gusto. Their carers are often moved to tears when they see the effect the music has.

We are staffed by a dozen volunteers, who gather to first set the room up and pray and reflect for twenty minutes before people arrive. Then the music starts.

The volunteers dance and act, and encourage those who are more mobile to join them. After about an hour the singing stops. We share lunch and then everyone leaves.

Dancing With Delight

John, who lives in a care home, has been with us for about twelve months.

When he first arrived, he shuffled in and sat in a chair staring at the floor. The music began and John could not take his eyes off Moira. His eyes danced with delight as he followed her every move and sang away.

After that first visit, John’s wife called to inform us that, during the period John had been in the home, she had watched him deteriorate.

Although the care he was given was second to none, he had shrivelled up within himself to the point where he had stopped communicating.

When she visited him on the same day that he had been to the choir, he was lively and animated, and even spoke a few words. She was beside herself with joy.

Healed And Restored

There are many more stories I could tell of the effect our choir has on people.

I am convinced that prayer, reflection and welcome are of vital importance in this whole process. Without that, the hearts and minds of the volunteers are not focused.

The music lifts hearts and minds. For that short time, feelings and emotions are healed and restored.

The dementia friendly choir has been of immense value to many people and, indeed, to me.

It enriches, frees and encourages those who are most vulnerable, and brings life in a way that nothing else seems to.

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