Henrietta Bredin

Communicating through music

Henrietta Bredin on how Music for Life can help overcome the isolation of dementia sufferers

Henrietta Bredin on how Music for Life can help overcome the isolation of dementia sufferers

I am looking at an elderly woman, tiny in a huge armchair. She has not spoken for months, she has not maintained eye contact with anyone for even longer and she has developed a nervous compulsion to keep one hand always up to her chin, covering her mouth. A woman in a pink overall is sitting next to her, gently stroking her hand, and a young man with a violin is kneeling at her feet. With infinite patience, the violinist starts to play a simple tune, making it even quieter, more exploratory, when she appears to flinch at the sound of the first notes. Very, very slowly, almost indiscernibly, the woman’s tight, clenched muscles relax slightly. The little tune trickles on. Her hand uncurls and comes away from her mouth. Tremulously, uncertainly, her lips part and an irresistible wavery smile begins to spread over her face, a smile of astonished delight and total engagement.

This is Music for Life in action, a project which uses music to reach out to people with dementia. It was founded by Linda Rose in 1993 and is now managed jointly by the Wigmore Hall and the charity For Dementia. It is, I think, a unique example of a concert hall involving itself in music therapy on such a scale, and it’s certainly a model that could be followed by other performing venues and organisations.

What inspired Linda Rose to establish Music for Life was the realisation, after completing a music therapy course at the Guildhall, that the training was almost exclusively geared towards young people. ‘It struck me forcibly that the older sector of society was not being helped in the same way and that there was an aging population with problems that were very underpublicised at the time.’

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