Dementia Projects

Our Treasurer, Dr Glenn Wilson, is a world-recognised psychologist who has reviewed the scientific literature with respect to the benefits of music and performing arts to patients of various types. Of particular relevance is the recent finding of a "nostalgia hub" in the right, orbitofrontal brain, representing an intersect of the brain mechanisms underlying personal memory, familiar music and positive emotion. This has been shown to be the very last part of the brain to atrophy in dementia patients. We believe our concerts have power to harness this enduring source of awareness and reward - revitalising them, restoring a sense of familiarity and offering great solace to a distressed and often neglected group, which is increasing numerically in today's world.

Reference: Wilson, G.D. (2018) Soothing the savage breast: Therapeutic applications of music. In B. Kirkcaldy (Ed.) Psychotherapy, Literature and the Visual and Performing Arts. Springer International.

In 2014/15, Arts Council England (Grants for the Arts) awarded us £14,700 in a one-year study of the effects of repeated performances with the same groups of dementia patients.


Quantum Care Homes in Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Essex collaborated in this project which involved performing a total of 42 concerts - 7 in each of 6 selected homes where residents primarily suffered dementia to some degree. The concerts were themed according to the season of year and major events occurring at the time, with songs, music and elaborate costumes appropriate to each theme. Care home staff were most helpful in completing a monitoring questionnaire which was designed to help us evaluate the impact of this sustained intervention.

The hope had been to observe building rapport over the course of the project in the ratings of various types of engagement with audiences. In the event, this proved difficult because of the high ratings that appeared from the outset (see diagram)

The project was deemed to be successful in the sense that the outcome were achieved almost immediately and staff felt that residents were becoming progressively familiar and comfortable with our visits.

In 2018 we were awarded £7,350 by the Cloudsley Foundation to conduct a similar project with older people in their Islington area of benefit who were suffering dementia. The project was titled Music in Mind and was a sustained intervention of four differently themed concerts in 5 chosen venues (both Care Homes and Day Centres). Evaluations were made using the same questionnaire as for the Quantum project, with the cooperation of Events Managers and other staff.

The outcome was similar to the Quantum study but even more strikingly - rapport was virtually immediate and there was a consensus that the reminiscence provided by the music was highly beneficial to the residents. No ratings of less than "Certainly" were recorded for any the 5 outcome criteria. Apart from seasonal relevance, there were exciting costumes changes and continuity provided with informal introductions to each item and amusing historical anecdotes, which added to the interest for audiences.

Themes were as follows: The Fabulous 50s (Oct/Nov 2017, Winter Wonderland (Dec 2017), We'll Gather Lilacs (March 2018), Bless Em All: Edwardian songs to mark the WW1 Armistice (June 2018).


Case Studies

Several staff members reported that their clients would become animated and sing along or get up to dance, to a degree they said, that they had never observed before.

One Centenarian (called Jim) was quoted as exclaiming "Gosh, that takes me back". Others said how grateful they were to have a show of this quality and colourful costumes brought in to where they lived or met. Many who had initially seemed distressed and insisted that they did not wish to attend the concert or "wanted to go home" were observed to have been soothed by the music and were now happy with their environment.

In one day centre, the pianist noticed that as he played a solo, a lady in the audience was moving her fingers as if she herself were playing. He spoke with her later and discovered that she had indeed achieved quite a high level of proficiency as a pianist but said "my fingers are too stiff now".

A lady called Bonnie became very animated when the pianist played a medley of Glenn Miller favourties. She excitedly told us that she had heard Glenn Miller himself play live on a boat trip when she was younger.

At St Anne's Care Home there was a fidgety and rather violent patient who appeared to become content and calm as the concert progressed. By the end, he was totally calm, smiling warmly and gently holding the singer's hand.

Another patient, covered in (self-inflicted) bruises, sang along in a very receptive and responsive way with all the songs. Unfortunately, immediately after the concert, as a symptom of her advanced dementia, she kicked out and was abusive to the staff (a different character altogether!)


Quotes from Staff Members

Lloyd Coombes MBE, Manager of Alsen & New Park Day Centres, Islington Council, spontaneously sent this email:

"I've had lots of positive feedback from service users, staff and carers on the show you have put on recently at Alsen and New Park Day Centres. The shows have brought so much joy and happiness to everyone – I can't recommend a better tonic for our older people! Everyone's looking forward to the next show in June. Thank you, to you and your team."

Raghip, Meghan Nightingale, & Elone Nzenge, Activity and wellbeing coordinators:

"On behalf of St. Anne's care home, thank you very much for coming and performing for our residents. They thoroughly enjoyed each performance which helped stimulation and engage in their environment. When changing outfits for each performance, this encouraged recognition and the ability to recognize others in different uniform/costume. Some residents remembered your first performance, and from then on they were excited for your next appearance. We noticed a significant amount of engagement and appreciation of your performance. Your performances always had the most participation and anticipation from our residents. This stimulation is such an important part of our resident's wellbeing. Our residents really benefitted from your performances and it always brought a smile to their face; therefore, thank you very much for coming to St. Anne's and bringing joy to our residents. Your presence was always greatly appreciated."

Other quotes from staff:

"We are an all-inclusive, diverse community centre, all our members are supported and encouraged to gather, contribute socially and share the experiences & Connaught Opera ensure that happens as they engage the audience throughout the concert"

"It really has a big impact on the members well-being, their mood lightens for the rest of the afternoon. 'Looking forward to the next concert' is the comment from our members."

"As always, a fantastic afternoon was had by all who attended, Connaught Opera ensure that the audience are engaged and to watch our members who are living with dementia come alive while Maria, Glenn and Nick are singing/performing is amazing."

"The concert was very inspirational; residents enjoyed it very much, singing along to the music. We would love to see them again"

"Very enjoyable, lots of different styles of Christmas songs ranging from Greek, Italian, Spanish language Christmas Classics, to more familiar (to the Anglo-Saxon ear) English language Yule Tide Fayre. Thank you. Thank you!"

"It is a joy to watch our member's reaction when Glenn and Maria walk among them singing to them and holding their hands. We had some new members attend and their comments were 'What a fantastic afternoon we have had, how lovely to have this concert played for us in our very own Centre". A huge thank you from all members and staff at St. Luke's Centre."

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