Barbara Buchanan is an Activities Co-ordinator with a passionate belief that music makes a significant contribution to the lives of people living with dementia.
She’s seen it daily in her role in many care homes during her extensive career, saying “I really love using music for residents with dementia. I hate going into a room when residents are just sitting there with maybe just a TV blaring in the background.”
At Avon Manor in Worthing, the 28 residents who Barbara and her colleagues care for have fairly advanced dementia but she organises a musical event almost every day to stimulate them. “I want everyone to know what music does,” she declares. “Even though the residents are older they can still do challenges like ‘Name that tune’.”
Budget friendly radio
Barbara starts the day with her musical exercise activity in each of the two main day rooms and will then turn on an Alexa smart speaker tuned to m4d Radio. M4d Radio was developed with people living with dementia and their carers to provide era-specific music with little talking and no advertisements.
She says: “I really do love it. There are other apps, but a lot of care homes don’t have a good budget and this is free with such great music all the time. Everyone wakes up during the exercise session and will be actively listening to the radio when it’s turned on.
“Often there will be songs playing on the station that I don’t know, but the residents recognise them. I see them tapping their feet or nodding along to the music. During Black History Month, for example, some Winifred Atwell music came on. I didn’t know her music, but they did and loved it.”
Music for activities
Depending on the age group in the room, Barbara will vary the m4d Radio streams that are playing. Generally, it’s the 30s and 40s, or 50s streams in the room with older residents, and 50s or the Mix station in the room where residents are a little younger. She will also include music in the background of other activities such as flower arranging later in the day.
“Certain songs just catch the residents’ attention,” explains Barbara. “There is one resident, Jill Juster, who doesn’t talk much, and when she does it’s hard to understand, but she can sing a whole song when the music is on.”
For residents unable to come to the lounges, Barbara takes a smart speaker into their room and chooses the m4d Radio station that appeals most to them. “One lady is quite young and she prefers different songs to the others so she might listen to 60s tunes,” she explains.
Barbara is delighted that all the carers at Avon Manor are keen on including music in their care, so much so that they recently created a video of everyone taking part in the #Jerusalemadancechallenge. As Worthing is a dementia-friendly town, they invited the Town Crier to introduce it. “Although Jerusalema is a new song and not in English, there’s something about the rhythm and tune that everyone seems to engage with.”
There’s no doubt residents and staff alike are having a great time and the music is a big part of their day.