Silent discos are a new form of music therapy for people with dementia

Categories: Care and Featured.
Two residents enjoying the silent disco at residential care home Eversfield House*, Sutton. Photo by Zena Innocent

A Surrey-based company owned by two sisters is running silent discos for adults in care homes.

Marcia and Zena are the team behind Silent Music Memories. They visit care homes, provide headphones and play well-known songs from the past to the residents. To date the discos have had very positive effects, particularly on people who have dementia.

“People who do not usually talk, sing along and they know all the words” Zena says. “Wheelchair users and those with frames get up and start dancing; as we dance with them, there’s a connection when they look into our eyes and it is really beautiful.”

“I did a disco today and it was the first time with these residents” she explains. “When I entered the room one lady was sitting in a chair looking pretty miserable, another was chatting about her daughter and others were half asleep. As soon as the music started, a broad smile spread across the face of the miserable lady and it didn’t take long before she was up on her feet having a dance.”

“The chatty lady pushed away her Zimmer frame and did the twist with me, as did two others. Her daughter arrived and listened, too. It was really nice to see mother and daughter singing along together. Often when relatives visit, they have little to say to each other or it’s the usual chit-chat, but when we’re having a disco, it’s a chance to see their parent looking happy and it’s a glimpse into the life they lived before infirmity and care homes.”

Both Marcia and Zena have over five years’ experience of working with the elderly, dementia patients and autistic adults, providing seated exercise, music and art sessions.

Research suggests the link between music and memory is particularly strong because it has the ability to activate large areas of the brain, including the auditory, motor and emotional regions. The motor areas process the rhythm, the auditory areas the sound, while the limbic regions are associated with the emotions.

A recent session at Holmwood Nursing Home in Tadworth, Surrey, demonstrated how beneficial music and dancing can be to the wellbeing of people with dementia.

Carers at the nursing home had experienced difficulties in getting the residents engaged in seated exercise classes, and those that did were often disrupted by the residents who were not willing to participate.

Silent Music Memories prepared a playlist of nostalgic tracks from a range of popular artists from the 40s, 50s and 60s, including Dame Vera Lynn, Doris Day, The Monkees, and The Beatles, to be played in the communal lounge area.

At first the residents looked on curiously as the team set up their equipment. They told the residents what was about to happen and fitted their headphones; once they heard the music playing their level of interest changed dramatically, and they began to sing and dance.

Remarkably, a number of residents who had previously proved challenging and unwilling to participate in group activities were keen to take part and sing along with everyone else. Every resident in the lounge took part, and it was clear they enjoyed listening and dancing to music they remembered from their past.

Hazel, a resident at the care home, said of the experience: “The disco brought back all my happy memories from when I used to go out jiving with my husband. I’d forgotten how much I enjoy dancing. ”

Jenny Evans, manager of Holmwood Nursing Home, said: “There was still a buzz in the air when I arrived for work the next day. Residents and staff were happy and chatting about the music and dancing.”

“Honestly, we have as much fun doing the discos as the residents” Zena adds. “We know from chatting to the carers that the upbeat effect lasts for days.”

For more information on Silent Music Memories call Marcia (07764 733468) or Zena (07957 598152).

*Eversfield House does not currently have residents who have dementia

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *