Nordoff Robbins, the UK's largest music therapy charity has just launched their annual Christmas Appeal, asking people to give the gift of music to help families affected by dementia. Nordoff Robbins is the largest independent music therapy charity in the UK, dedicated to enriching the lives of people affected by life limiting illness, isolation or disability.
Right now, there are 1 million people living with dementia in the UK. Dementia makes it harder for someone to communicate, harder to concentrate, harder to carry out day to day tasks and harder to remember time, place and people. But music is a powerful way to help them retain their sense of identity and continue to function, even as the brain deteriorates. Meet Cis – Cis was diagnosed with dementia in 2016 and it’s been really hard for her family to see her abilities, memory and personality fading in front of them.
Cis and her daughter, Joan
Her daughter Joan says: "Mum has always been shy, but when dad died in 2008, we really struggled to get her to do anything. Then in 2014 mum suffered a mild stroke, and by 2016 she was diagnosed with dementia. Mums illness has affected her in so many ways. She isn't able to recall things and is now starting to forget faces and family members."
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The NHS memory clinic Cis attended had a Nordoff Robbins music therapist, John. Her physician suggested she and Joan join the group sessions that John ran weekly at the clinic. Joan says, "It really is so very hard to see someone you love's abilities and memory, their personality, fading in front of you. But then, music therapy came into our lives. I still remember mums first session, we were both a little nervous. But as we walked into the room there was a lovely warm feeling. People were relaxed, they made space for us to sit, and there was a feeling of true acceptance; no questions asked, no judgements made. The singing started - at first mum didn’t join in, although she looked like she was enjoying herself. But then John played the opening chords to 'Over the Rainbow' and just like that, Mum burst into song. It occurred to me in that moment that since Dad died, we'd all stopped singing, until now."
John, much like all of Nordoff Robbins’ music therapists is expertly trained to tune into each movement, reaction and expression of the individuals he works with to discover how music can enrich their lives. This could be to unlock memories, to communicate where words have failed, to socially connect with family and friends, and to build confidence and self-esteem.
Cis was diagnosed with dementia in 2016
For Cis, it was exactly this and more. Joan adds: "It made mum simply shine with confidence. John would play so many songs from mum’s era, and it was wonderful watching her remember them, it would bring a tear to the eye. Music therapy helped us cope, it has helped us bring out, and keep hold of, the Mum that we all love, and that is completely priceless."
Nordoff Robbins have helped many people like Cis, but as a charity they also provide a range of different sessions for children and adults of all ages in their centres in London, Manchester, Newcastle and Scotland - from specialised one-to-one music therapy to shared sessions for groups of different sizes and formats.
Alfie Boe is performing at the Nordoff Robbins Carol Service in December
They also work in partnership with over 200 organisations to bring music therapy to as many vulnerable people who could benefit from it as possible. These include schools, care homes, hospices, hospitals, mental health services, and brain injury units. All of their therapists are trained on their internationally recognized Master of Music Therapy (MMT) programme, 80% of which were employed by Nordoff Robbins after graduation. Last year the charity managed to reach 10, 269 people, and a survey carried out on 733 of their beneficiaries showed that 95% said music therapy helped improve their interaction, communication and relationships, while 92% said that music therapy had improved their quality of life and wellbeing.
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Musician Alexis Ffrench is also performing
But the charity receives no direct government funding, meaning they have to rely on the generosity of its supporters to make this difference to peoples lives. So, this Christmas why not give the gift of music and support Nordoff Robbins to help more families like Cis and Joan affected by dementia find joy and connection again. For more information, visit https://www.nordoff-robbins.org.uk/gift-2019/
The Nordoff Robbins Carol Service 2019 with Alfie Boe and Alexis Ffrench is being held at St Lukes Church in Chelsea on Tuesday 10 December, 7pm. Buy tickets here.