Dementia patients who participated in a new orchestra program experienced a boost in self-confidence and mood, according to a new research project by the Bournemouth University Dementia Institute (BUDI) in the UK. The program was designed to create a sense of community among the participants, a group which included dementia patients, professional musicians, caregivers, and students.
The BUDI Orchestra, funded by Dorset County Council in England, is one of BUDI’s numerous ongoing creative projects to demonstrate that people with dementia can have fun while learning.
Research has long shown that arts activities, especially music, can reawaken and exercise the brain. Art therapy is increasingly being brought to the forefront to support health and wellbeing, both in healthcare settings and in the community for people with dementia and their families.
“Music touches everyone in some way, either by listening or playing — and the BUDI Orchestra has been a life-enhancing project which has benefited everyone,” said Dr. Anthea Innes, head of BUDI.
“Performing and showcasing skills of those with dementia creates a well-deserved opportunity for them to demonstrate their abilities and to challenge the negative public perceptions that surround the diagnostic label of ‘dementia’. Working together to produce a collaborative output is a powerful way to bring out the best in people — not just in terms of their musical skills, but their communication skills, friendships, care, and support for one another.”
The orchestra was initially set up in partnership with Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (BSO) with a repertoire ranging from Ravel’s “Bolero” to Henry Mancini’s “Moon River.” Rehearsals have demonstrated a positive effect on all participants — some of whom are learning new skills and others who are rediscovering old ones.
For the project, eight people with dementia and seven caregivers were involved in a course of eight weekly two-hour sessions led by Andy Baker, a former BSO community musician and double bass player. They were also supported by two additional professional musicians, Bournemouth University students and staff volunteers.
Previous workshops with the orchestra have found that most of the participants with dementia learned a new skill and that the sessions were highly enjoyed by all who took part. One of the participants was Jack, a professional bass player who was forced by eye cancer and dementia to give up playing in his bands. His wife also joined BUDI and played the violin for the first time since school.
Both Jack and his wife found that the orchestra helped overcome feelings of loneliness, and Jack’s confidence returned as a result of being part of the sessions.
Innes and her research team have produced a guide in collaboration with the professional musicians for those interested in setting up their own community-based music group.
“Our creative projects show that it is possible for people with dementia to take part, learn something new, and have fun, all at the same time,” said Dr. Michelle Heward, also from BUDI.