Demystifying Dementia – how the media is shining a light on living with the illness.

At one point it felt as though choirs on TV were everywhere. Gareth Malone shone a light on singing and within weeks we were all hooked. Follow on shows from his original series included, The Big Performance, Sing While You Work  and even The Naked Choir. My own experiences of choirs were as a child recieving (literally) pennies to sing at funerals and weddings with my church choir as well as the competitive world of pre-teen school choirs.

Touched by the sudden choir frenzy a few years ago I signed up to a choir and instead of a musty church hall was filled with joy at the collective experience of singing with strangers. There is no doubt singing is good for you, physically and mentally. Which is why I am so excited to see a TV show this week which doesn’t just showcase how singing can improve your wellbeing but actually shows that it can be used as a credible treatment for some of our most serious illnesses.

As with many TV shows these days Our Dementia Choir is fronted by a celebrity, it can get hard to be commissioned without a big name. Ironically I met with someone this week who ended up presenting an entire documentary after the producers realised that the big name star was in fact useless when it came to the subject and she, being someone who had been personally effected by the subject was actually a much better fit.

However in this case, actress Vicky McClure is not just a popular front woman, she has experience of dementia, her grandmother lived with the condition and died in 2015. With many more of us expected to develop this disease, after all we are all living longer, it currently feels like life stops at a diagnosis.

That’s where music comes in. There is growing evidence that music can play a part in helping people with dementia live happy and  more fulfilled lives after they are diagnosed. Music and singing won’t cure the illness, nor can any treatment at the moment but it is about the increased quality of life and this possible effect on other illnesses which is really interesting.

Vicky proclaims that she wants to see choirs set up in every town and village which is actually already happening in many places and this focus on singing for health is  nothing new. It can be annoying when the media suddenly get hold of something and tout it as the next big thing when groups having been working solidly for years to run groups like this.

There are some brilliant examples out there, many of whom are taking part in our Creativity and Wellbeing week this year. For example, we have a session with the Mind and Soul choir And there are other great groups like the Melodies for Mums, Singing for the Brain and Singing for Lung Health.

However effective we know these choirs can be it does sometimes take big stars and mainstream entertainment to get things into the spotlight. While many people watching may be coming across singing as a health activity for the first time it means that awareness is raised and if enought people want something then this hopefully leads to bodies such as the NHS sitting up and taking notice.

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