There’s no doubt that music can have a tremendous effect on our mood and our overall well-being. Proof of this can be seen in how people with Alzheimer’s and dementia get a noticeable lift in mood from singing and enjoying music from their younger years. Being able to remember lyrics to an old favourite song can give patients and family members a much needed boost during difficult times. But how exactly does music affect the brain, and how much can it really help? Our Dementia Choir, a powerful new 2-part documentary from BBC, puts this theory to the test.
Airing March 6 and 13 on VisionTV, the doc follows British actor Vicky McClure’s quest to form a choir of people diagnosed with different forms of dementia to find out how music can trigger memory and improve mood among patients. After experiencing first-hand the value of music when her grandmother was diagnosed with dementia, Vicky is looking to share that experience with a wider community who can benefit from consistent exposure to music therapy. With the help of a professional singing coach, Vicky and her choir will prepare for one very special performance in front of hundreds of friends, family and supporters.
“Being part of this experience and as an Alzheimer’s Society ambassador, I have seen how singing can help people with dementia communicate, improve their mood and leave them feeling good about themselves.” – Vicky McClure
As still so much is unknown about the effects of music for dementia patients, the choir members are also participating in a 3 year study to track changes in the brains from music therapy. The researchers involved in the study are hoping to identify exactly how music can trigger memory centers in the brain as well as the emotional centers, which are far more difficult to activate among dementia patients.
As Vicky starts meeting patients and begins practicing songs, the results are immediate. Singing the classic Beatles songs “Stand By Me” and “In My Life”, the patients surprise themselves by being able to sing along with lyrics they thought would be long forgotten. Perhaps most effected by this shift is the family members and caregivers, sharing a share a laugh and shedding tears with their loved ones when they experiences a positive shift in mood from the simple act of singing.
While there’s a fair share of heart wrenching moments that capture the cruelty of the disease, the overall spirit of the documentary is incredibly uplifting. On the first day of choir practice, a woman named Rae who was once a talented pianist starts tinkering around on the piano, and the results are quite emotional for all involved. No one is more amazed than Rae herself when she’s able to play a challenging song completely from memory. It’s been 10 years since she’s been able to play the piano at all, and her joy at being able to once again do something she loves is incredibly profound.
“If they don’t remember the performance,” says Vicky. “I hope they remember feeling incredibly proud.”