Music therapy hits the right note with dementia patients at GWH

By Swindon Link - 24 May 2019

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Dementia patients at Great Western Hospital have been piping up thanks to a new treatment of music therapy.

Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust is funding a Nordoff Robbins music therapist who visits the hospital and spends time with patients living with dementia, in a bid to reduce distress and improve patient experience.

Nordoff Robbins is the largest independent music therapy charity in the UK, dedicated to changing the lives of vulnerable and isolated people with a wide range of needs.

Jupiter ward is regularly visited by Gillian Farkas-Blake, a local music therapist, and a number of other roving musicians. The musical team interact with dementia and delirium patients through use of music and instruments, bringing joy and a much-needed distraction to the often distressing nature of a hospital environment.

Alongside the clinical care, staff at Great Western Hospital have seen an improvement in the patient experience for those with dementia, as they see the positive response that music can bring. The funding follows a recent BBC documentary, The Dementia Choir, which saw a group of people living with dementia come together in their love for music and singing.

Gillian Farkas-Blake said: “Music isn’t a pill that I can give a person to make them better but through musical interaction, a person can feel better.  We will have all experienced hearing a song on the radio that will take us right back to when we first heard it - the power of music to trigger memories is well known.

“On occasion, people who are at the end of their lives are unable to offer very little musically apart from their breathing. In those instances, I will sing with their breath, offering them a musical companionship of sorts.  Sometimes, they cannot resist the pull of music and will mouth along with words or tap their fingers in time with the music around them.

“I have received so many lovely comments since working on the ward from people who are grateful for the time I have spent with their family member, saying how it calms them and how they had seen a side of them that they hadn’t seen for a long time.”

The good news follows this week’s Dementia Action Week. Today, patients living with dementia have been invited to a Tea Dance. This is an opportunity for the elderly patients to take a trip down memory lane, listen to music and have a dance. A dance teacher will also be on hand for those patients who need some practice in learning the steps.

The Trust Choir have also been joined by representatives from Alzheimer’s UK, as they take part in a sing-a-long with staff and patients.

Consultant geriatrician and clinical lead for dementia, Sarah White, said: “The clinical care we provide for patients with dementia and delirium is vitally important but sometimes, holistic approaches can enhance the quality of that care and really help a patient to feel better.

“We know that music can reduce agitation and lower stress levels and for individuals with dementia or delirium in an unfamiliar hospital environment, that is so important. 

“I have seen people with dementia on Jupiter ward, who have barely interacted with the ward staff, sing songs with Gillian and some patients with limited mobility, even with the physiotherapists, have been able to move more with the aid of music. 

“It really is remarkable. We are thrilled that Gillian will be staying with us for the coming months to compliment the care that we provide to all our patients.”

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