Dementia therapists are shut out of care homes during coronavirus pandemic
Thousands of care home residents are missing out on vital music therapy sessions because those who deliver them are not classed as essential workers.
Research shows music therapy is one of the most effective ways of reducing dementia’s psychological symptoms.
But many therapists are freelancers and have not been allowed into care homes during the pandemic because they are not classed as key workers.
As a result, many residents have developed anxiety and become reliant on medication they did not previously need.
Grace Meadows, director of Music for Dementia, said the services were “vital” for many patients.
The charity campaigns for people with dementia to have free music therapy.
She said: “We work with more than 200 organisations that help people living with dementia access music services.
“We’re hearing from music therapists every day who are telling us they can’t work because they’re freelancers and not essential workers.
“It means thousands of people are being denied access to services that are vital to their quality of life.
“Technology and online services are useful and have helped to bridge the gap.
“But music is most impactful when it’s delivered in person, and can be experienced in real life, together. Music isn’t simply a nicety for care home residents with dementia – it is a necessity.
“There is no cure for dementia, but music can respond to this challenge unlike anything else.”
Studies have shown singing in care homes can reduce anxiety by 50 per cent and the need for medication by 67 per cent.
One patient whose life has been revolutionised by music therapy is 75-year-old Paul Knowles.
He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s four years ago but deteriorated during lockdown to the extent he did not recognise wife Hilary, 63.
She was left with no choice but to move Paul, a former building manager, to a care home after he kept trying to escape from their house in Chorley, Lancs.
Music therapy was still being delivered at his care home and had such a positive effect that he has not only remembered who Hilary is, but started singing songs from their wedding.
Hilary said: “Paul was always whistling and singing, he was always so positive.
“He was starting to decline towards the end of last year and became very reliant on me but during lockdown, he forgot I was his wife.
“He kept leaving the house and I was having to run after him in the car. He got really agitated and distressed and he was terrified.
“I didn’t want to put him into a care home because of the pandemic but his safety became the paramount thing. I was on medication because I wasn’t coping and friends had to move in. It was a horrendous time.
“But then I got a message to ask if I would agree to one-to-one music therapy and it calmed him down. His anxiety levels reduced when he was singing.
“I can honestly say we’ve seen a huge change in that time. He remembers I’m his wife, which is fabulous.
“I’ve seen videos of him singing. In one session, he started to sing S’Wonderful from An American in Paris. It’s the song he chose when we were signing the register at our wedding. Then, he sang another song called A Bushel and a Peck [from the musical Guys and Dolls].
“We used to sing it to our granddaughter when she was a baby.”
Hilary has only been able to visit Paul once since he moved to the care home because of the current tight restrictions in Bolton.
But they keep in touch regularly via Skype and phone – and she has wept tears of joy when therapists have sent her videos of Paul singing.
She said: “The music therapist said, ‘It’s so nice to see him after a session as he goes down the corridor, whistling’. It made me realise, although he’d whistled all his life, he’d stopped when his dementia started.
“It’s fabulous that he is whistling again. I can have a conversation with him now but, although he’s confused, he’s not so distressed he can’t concentrate. It’s worth its weight in gold for me. If he’s OK, I’m OK.”
Her views were echoed by Baroness Sally Greengross, the former director-general of Age Concern and a crossbench peer who campaigns on issues affecting the elderly.
The 85-year-old was moved to tears after seeing a dementia patient conducting an orchestra many years ago and has fought for them to have access to music therapy sessions ever since. Baroness Greengross said: “I’m a passionate believer in the effects the arts… have on people with dementia, particularly music.
“It’s just extraordinary what music can do. It calms people, it helps them remember things which have been completely forgotten, it brings back memories and reduces depression.
“Music can really alter the atmosphere in care homes.”
During the pandemic, The Sunday People has fought passionately for our care home residents with a string of exposés.
In May, we revealed that elderly residents in homes were dying because hospital patients who had not been tested for coronavirus were sent straight to homes from hospitals.
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