Power of song to bring memories back to life

Horsforth Live at Home scheme reach out to the community to support older people
Horsforth Live at Home scheme reach out to the community to support older people
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It is a heartbreaking condition that can rob couples of their precious time together.

Not only can it steal a person’s identity - it can ultimately steal their dignity.

Thousands of pensioners across Leeds are caught in the grips of dementia.

And not only can it be isolating for the person who has been diagnosed with the condition, it can also have a huge impact on their nearest and dearest.

Often it is left to their husbands and wives to pick up the pieces when the memories of their loved ones starts to fade.

But one Leeds group is harnessing the power of music to help people come to terms of living with dementia.

Classic songs from British comic George Formby and Bing Crosby are helping couples to reconnect as they take a trip down memory lane.

Horsforth Live at Home’s Reminiscing group love nothing better than raising the roof at their Central Methodist Church base.

Tracy Brierley, manager at Horsforth Live at Home Scheme said: “Dementia is isolating not only for the person who has been diagnosed with it but also for their carer.

“They are in that situation 24/7. But in just the space of an hour-and-a-half those carers leave with a smile on their face and they chat with other people who are in the same situation as them.

“It is just amazing to sit there and watch the group.

“It is almost like you see something recaptured there for them during that session.

“We have one lady who was new to the group and her brother brought her in.

“She was soon singing the words off by heart and she never even needed to use her song sheet.

“That was just amazing and then her brother told us that she had always loved singing.

“Unfortunately her dementia had stopped her coming to some of the other activities we have and we had not seen her in a while. But now she has started to come back and that is just great.

“One new member left the session saying that they felt 20 years younger - singing really does make you feel great.”

Horsforth Live at Home Scheme reaches out to support thousands of pensioners in the community in a bid to beat social isolation.

They host a series of coffee mornings and activities to help boost friendships in the area as well as supporting people with dementia.

Horsforth is just one of three towns across the whole of Leeds - including Rothwell and Otley - that have been singled out and praised for their dementia friendly efforts.

Figures show there are 8,600 people in the city who were diagnosed with the heartbreaking condition.

Nearly one-third of people who are suffering from dementia are living on their own.

But it is not just the power of song that helps carers and their loved ones to reconnect and share their memories.

Leeds-based Care and Repair have recently established a Reminiscence Library to help evoke memories.

Photographs of former sporting champions, ration books and old games are just some of the images in their archives to help get conversations started.

The library, which was funded by a £20,000 grant from Leeds Community Foundation, has helped families to reconnect and it looks set to be rolled out across the city.

Lisa Stones from Care and Repair said: “It just helps as a prompt to start a conversation again that is not about medication or asking them if they’ve had their dinner or tea. It is something fun to help families re-engage with that person.

“Dementia can completely change the personality of someone but this just helps to give someone the confidence they need to start a conversation again with their loved ones and that is very important.

“It can be lovely for the person with dementia but also for their carer.

“We want to help them get that conversation back even if it is just for a few minutes.”

Many of the city’s neighbourhood networks also run a range of support sessions for people with dementia and memory problems.

More than 70 people from businesses, public services and community groups came to an open meeting of the Leeds Dementia Action Alliance (DAA) at West Yorkshire Playhouse.

The DAA supports groups and organisations in Leeds to help create a dementia-friendly city.

An event was recently held at the St George’s Centre to give people the chance to find out about dementia-friendly activities.

June Rance, 70, from Tingley, attended the meeting and spoke about her experience of peer support. She said: “We absolutely love it, they all love it.

“Some people go there with their carers and you can guarantee by the next time they come they try and say a few words and eventually they start talking.

“This is what it does, it brings you out of yourself because you’re there with other people that are all the same and they can see it around them, they can see other people struggling to talk. You need that, you need to get out and talk.”

Leeds is already home to a number of successful projects working to support people with dementia along with carers.

Among them is the council’s award-winning Peer Support Service, which won the Arts in Health award at last year’s Love Arts Leeds festival.

The service’s Cultural Partnership group organises themed activities at arts and heritage venues including the West Yorkshire Playhouse, the Leeds Museum Discovery Centre and the Leeds Central Library.

A recent project saw the group, for people in the early stages of dementia and carers look at animals and the natural environment, studying the collection at the Leeds Museum Discovery Centre.

Councillor Adam Ogilvie, executive member for adult social care, said: “There are already some excellent projects in parts of Leeds doing some superb work to ensure people with dementia have the support, information and confidence to feel safe and independent.

“There is still much more to be done and the ultimate goal is to create a network of organisations and individuals who can help make the whole of Leeds dementia friendly.

““But that’s not something any one group can accomplish alone, we need as many people as possible to give just a bit of their time to learn that crucial bit of extra information that really could make all the difference.”

Prof Derek Steele.

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