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Series 2 - Episode 4

Give us one of the old tunes

Thursday 20 January 2011, 10:00

Deborah Wain Deborah Wain

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Recording a concert with a group of people with dementia at a care home

Editor's note: Deborah Wain is the writer of today's Afternoon Play 'Notes To Self', a drama about Alzheimer's disease, based on real experiences and interwoven with recordings of music sessions carried out in care homes and day centres - SB.

A heartfelt blast of a chorus or just a brief flickering of fingers and a smile from someone seemingly lost in the mist of their illness.

The power of music to bring joy and relief to people with dementia is truly amazing and, even after witnessing its effects many times now, I'm still deeply moved and inspired by it.

Patients who have been unable to speak for a long time can often find words through singing. Their abilities may have otherwise shut down but they can sometimes 'come back to life' through music.

In simple terms, the brain has two fundamental types of memory - factual, using logic and reason, and emotional - and the area of the brain which stores the latter remains undamaged for far longer when it's attacked by Alzheimer's. It makes sense that people even in advanced stages of the illness can still respond to music given its link to feelings throughout our lives.

I was a guest at a number of music sessions run in care settings by South Yorkshire-based charity Lost Chord, who along with the Alzheimer's Society Doncaster and Rotherham, helped with research for my play Notes To Self.

Lost Chord is unique in that it uses highly-trained, professional instrumentalists. Regular performances in the same venues and a tactile approach from musicians and volunteers yield often dramatic results. Memories are unlocked, personalities expressed and, importantly, connections made between loved ones. And all in under an hour's performance!

I wanted to write a piece of drama that attempted to explore Alzheimer's disease from the point of view of the person affected, focusing on music as a link between past and present, and reality and perceived reality.

The resultant piece Notes To Self is fictional but inspired by, and based on, contributions from participants in the project.

Throughout the process I interviewed people able to talk about their experiences, as well as spending time with those who found it much more difficult to communicate. I also met relatives, carers and experts from the society.

A team from Radio 4, led by producer Nadia Molinari, later visited Doncaster and recorded Lost Chord sessions at the Richmond Care Home, Sprotbrough, and the Linney Centre, Balby.

Once the drama had been recorded at the BBC in Manchester, with a wonderful cast headed up by Linda Bassett, the actuality was woven in.

A few people have questioned whether the loss of visual references might dilute the impact of the piece's documentary elements, but I feel radio beautifully conveys the alchemy of the sessions by revealing small, individual triumphs over what is so clearly a cruel illness.

Deborah Wain is writer of Notes To Self

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    Comment number 1.

    yes - this is why we have "singing for the brain" sessions in Gloucestershire care services.
    music appears to be the very last part of the memory to get damaged or destroyed by the effects of Alzheimer's.
    when I am in a home it will need to be David Bowie and Nirvana rather than the Gracie fields collection of course...

    good play. - thanks a lot.

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    Comment number 2.

    I so enjoyed the play this afternoon. My mother(91) has Alzheimers. I've noticed for a long time how much music means to her and 'remains' with her. Ironically, the song she most enjoys singing concerns 'memory' of a lost love. It begins "There is nothing left for me, there's just a memory...." She has been admitted to hospital and is awaiting assessment for a care home. She continues to sing in hospital...'Don't Fence Me In' and 'Blowing Bubbles'. I so hope that the care home she goes to will provide music.
    This play was moving and authentic. It has been so interesting to hear the play and read the blog. It has informed me and clarified something for me; the idea that I always felt about the soothing and enriching power of music for my dear mother. And, yes, it is a such a 'cruel' illness. Thank you

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    Comment number 3.

    Wonderful article! Would love to see the play. Recently did see a documentary film on the topic of how the creative arts help bring quality of life to Alzheimer's patients, and get them communicating again. There was also mention of a play in the film though not sure if it is the one mentioned above. The film was truly inspiring. Grams has Alzheimer's so we are looking for everything to help. The film we saw is called "I Remember Better When I Paint", and we read about it while researching. Wanted to share as really inspired us. http://www.alzheimersweekly.com/content/remember-better-when-paint

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