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BBC Music Day will bring music to people with dementia

The director of a Catholic mental health project has welcomed a new initiative by the BBC that will help bring music to people who are living with dementia.

Over 50 UK organisations involved with dementia care are collaborating with this year’s BBC Music Day.

The fifth annual BBC Music Day takes place on Thursday 26th September and the centrepiece for this year’s activity is a ‘celebration of music and wellbeing; the power of music to inspire, to bring us together and make a positive impact’.

Legendary, multiple Grammy-winning musician Nile Rodgers is among those supporting the BBC Music Day initiative, which aims to bring music to everyone living with dementia by 2020.

Ben Bano, director of Welcome Me as I Am, which promotes mental health and dementia awareness in parish communities, has also welcomed the initiative, explaining that music has a particular resonance with people with dementia, particularly as the condition advances.

“Even if we are unable to remember our loved ones and our past, we may still recall familiar hymns from our childhood,” Mr Bano told The Catholic Universe.

“The Music and Dementia initiative is particularly welcome and provides an opportunity for parish communities to think about how they may help to meet the needs the spiritual needs of people with dementia in the parish, for example through planning a service in a local residential home with familiar hymns and other music which can be recalled.”

Mr Bano added: “Those whose lives have been touched by dementia should be encouraged to sing – there’s nothing better than a choir in a residential or nursing home.”

As part of the initiative, Radio 3 will feature live music relating to dementia, and Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour will explore with listeners how music helps them care for and connect with family members who have dementia.

Nile Rodgers signed up to help with the initiative after witnessing how dementia “transformed” his mother.

The man behind some of the biggest dance hits of the past few decades said Alzheimer’s had affected many in his family.

The Chic star revealed that his mother, Beverly Goodman, now 81, was diagnosed 13 years ago, but he was unaware for many years.

“She was diagnosed 13 years ago unbeknownst to me, because we live in different cities, and because my mum, when she hears my voice, becomes so intellectually clear it’s mind-boggling.

“She didn’t tell me and she was also suffering from one of the common symptoms which is denial, she wouldn’t believe it,” he told PA.

“Even now, we have conversations and she says, ‘At least I don’t have Alzheimer’s’.”

The US producer, 66, whose hits have ranged from David Bowie’s Let’s Dance to Daft Punk’s Get Lucky, said he had witnessed “just how transformational music can be for people with this condition”.

“One day I took my mum shopping in a mall. As we passed every store which played music, she sang the songs with perfect pitch.

“I thought to myself this woman I’ve known all my life, is now all of a sudden a terrific singer. How did that happen?

“I realised that her memory is precisely honed in on those memories. It was incredible.

At the facility where she resides, she leads all the singing classes. She’s like a star, music has transformed her life.

“This is a woman who, all my life, has been around incredible musicians and would never dream of opening her mouth to sing and now she’s the star of the show.”

The Grammy-winning star said: “My aunt lay in a coma for five years with Alzheimer’s and we would sing the Beatles’ song Hey Jude in her ear and every time we would do it she’d wake right up and sing with us…

“It gave us a sense of comfort that we were communicating with her. But as soon as we stopped singing she went back to that very vegetative type of state.

“But while the song was going on. She was right there with us and it was every time, without fail, for a period of about five years.”

While some experiences had been a challenge, “you can also look at it in another way” and the pair now have a “wonderful relationship”, he said.

“Maybe because the sound of my voice and the fact that we always sing together makes her so happy, my experience with her now feels happy all the time…

“When I walk in the door my mum lights up like a Christmas tree and we have the best time ever.”

James Stirling, head of BBC Music & BBC Music Introducing, said: “With an ambitious aim to help those with dementia through music, BBC Music Day is delighted to be collaborating with Nile Rodgers and so many organisations to help those with dementia reconnect with their memories.”


Picture: Legendary musician Nile Rodgers will help with a BBC Music Day initiative aimed at bringing music to everyone living with dementia by 2020. (David Jensen/PA).