A new BBC documentary examines the positive impacts of music on dementia, and highlights the work being done in this field by the Manchester Camerata orchestra.

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Around 900,000 people in the UK live with dementia and there is currently no cure. The documentary Dementia, Music and Us follows the Camerata and its 'Music In Mind' music therapy workshops, which are having a profoundly positive impact on those living with dementia.

While music can often be used to reawaken memories from the past, these innovative sessions help those living with dementia to centre themselves in the present. The programme follows the people making the workshops happen, as well as finding out what impact they have had on attendees.

The innovative music therapy devised by Manchester Camerata is not only helping families living with dementia: it's also helping to create new memories. For example, Keith was diagnosed with dementia when he was 53 and along with his partner, Joan, he has been attending music workshops with Manchester Camerata for more than five years.

We follow the couple's story, as they and their friends perform music together. They also write their own new song to sing on their first group holiday with other families impacted by dementia.

Dementia and music documentary features Manchester Camerata
Keith, pictured with Amina from Manchester Camerata, has been attending music workshops with the orchestra for more than five years

The couple believe that these groups have had a profound effect. Joan says, 'I think the thing that saved us was the first ever music group we went to because from that group it opened other groups up for us. It's been fantastic.' Keith adds, 'I live life every week. Not every day, every week because I've got music sessions.'

These innovative workshops are spreading through people like Beth, a carer from Liverpool whose career drastically changed direction during the pandemic. After volunteering as a carer, she fell in love with the profession and now works full time in care homes.

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Beth is now rolling out music workshops across all the care homes where she works, and is mentored by Amina, the Camerata's principal flutist and lead music therapist. Armed with a piano and music speaker, Beth leads her first class, and we see the instant impact that music can have on those in the care home where Beth works as well as on herself.

Beth says, 'I think the workshops have made me more confident. I feel like I've got more strategies as well to bring residents into the present to help them if they’re distressed.'

'Taking part in the Music In Mind workshops has been an enormous privilege for me as a musician,' Amina says. 'It has really changed my outlook of what music is and what it can do.'

Despite widespread recognition of music's positive role in managing dementia, its true influence is not yet fully understood. Dr Robyn Dowlen, who specialises in the study of music’s impact on people living with dementia, attends one of Keith’s group sessions to study its impact on Keith.

'Improvisational music making is particularly important for people with dementia.' Dr Robyn concludes. 'Especially when it comes to building their confidence and self-esteem.'

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Dementia, Music and Us is available to view on BBC iPlayer from the evening of 25 November.

Authors

Steve Wright
Steve WrightMulti-Platform Content Producer, BBC Music Magazine

Steve has been an avid listener of classical music since childhood, and now contributes a variety of features to BBC Music’s magazine and website. He started writing about music as Arts Editor of an Oxford University student newspaper and has continued ever since, serving as Arts Editor on various magazines.