Singing for the Brain is an initiative organised by the Alzheimer's Society which involves bringing dementia patients and carers together in regular singing groups. The groups are a socially stimulating activity for people with dementia and memory loss, helping them to build new relationships, retain skills, and boost confidence.
The Singing for the Brain Story
Singing for the Brain was founded back in 2003 by Chreanne Montgomery-Smith, a development worker at the Alzheimer's Society. Chreanne came up with the idea of singing groups after being impressed by the positive impact singing had on people with dementia when she worked in a care home. She shares her experience, 'I started doing a range of activities in the nursing home. One of them was a quiz game, which involved playing familiar tunes. The first week I did it nobody sang, and the second week a few people joined in. By the third week, everybody was singing. One lady sang so much, she knew every song in the quiz and remembered and sang them all. She felt very proud, and she was somebody who didn't know her own name.'
The special ability to remember songs and the way it gave confidence to people with dementia was something Chreanne was keen to spread. After leaving her job at the care home, she went to work for the Alzheimer's Society where she set up a local singing group for people with dementia at the charity's West Berkshire branch. Singing for the Brain was born, and the positive impact it had on dementia patients and carers ensured the initiative began to spread and groups started to appear across the country.
There are now around 200 Singing for the Brain groups across the UK. The groups are encouraging community spirit, stimulating brains and reducing loneliness for people with dementia right across the country.
How does a Singing for the Brain group work?
There are singing groups held in frequent locations across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. They are free to join and all dementia patients are welcome, from any walk of life, whatever stage of dementia they have and whether they already sing or not. There are trained singing leaders that are skilled in teaching songs from scratch at a pace that includes everyone. People enjoy the Singing for the Brain groups and nearly always return after their first visit.
It gives you so much fun and pleasure. You can go back for the rest of the week, even though we don't see anybody at home. Here, it's a lovely hour of fun.
The groups are held regularly, every week or fortnight, and they last for about two hours. The groups begin with about half an hour of relaxed time where people can talk to each other and enjoy refreshments that are provided. Each singing session starts with warm-up exercises, which include physical movements such as coordination activities with a small bean bag or clapping along to a song.
All kinds of songs are used in the sessions and there are also percussion instruments that people can play. Songs are sung from different eras, musical styles and traditions and are usually selected according to the preferences of the group. The Singing for the Brain initiative promotes trying out new pieces of music to challenge and enhance skills, but familiar and well known songs play an important part in group engagement. Songs with action are also played to increase the exercise element and give challenges to the brain which, as the initiative has proven, people with dementia cope with very well.
Singing for the Brain is a high point in the week. It’s amazing how the music can bring out the ‘old mum’. She always leaves very happy.
Family member of a dementia patient
Video (9:07): Singing for the Brain in action
See the initiative in action by taking a peek inside the Singing for the Brain group held fortnightly in Stonehouse, Gloucestershire.