www.hastingsonlinetimes.co.uk     Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper
The Sunny Side Up choir in rehearsal (some carers included).

The Sunny Side Up choir in rehearsal (at the front tutor Emily Clark; some carers included).

Combating dementia with music-making

Music is a vital lifeline to dementia sufferers whose cruel illness cuts them off from the rest of the world in many ways. This philosophy is the driving force behind the work of Dementia Support East Sussex as they prepare for their second public concert on Saturday. Cliff Slack, chair of the group, talks to Nick Terdre.

Dementia is a growing phenomenon of alarming proportions, Cliff says – in East Sussex alone the number of those diagnosed with the illness is 100,000, but on top of that there is a vast number of sufferers who have never been diagnosed.

Symptoms such as failing memory and the inability in some to recognise even their own spouse or children are indicative of the walls within which sufferers find themselves immured. It is vital therefore to encourage lines of communication which still work, and music in particular has this power.

Participating in musical activities provides various benefits for dementia sufferers, Cliff says. Those who are silent or less communicative may become more talkative and social; those who are sad and depressed may become happier; those who are less mobile may become more physically active.

Bridging the gap which dementia creates between sufferers and the general population is another key aim of the group, Cliff says. “On the one hand we want to help sufferers mix more with the community, and on the other we want to make the community aware that at bottom people with dementia are no different from anyone else.”

When Dementia Support East Sussex was set up last June, they set themselves the task of providing opportunities for communal sing-alongs. The ball was set rolling with the establishment of sessions at a venue in Bexhill, which were publicised by means of adverts and fliers distributed in public places.

A regular group calling itself Sunny Side Up has now been established – 24 came to the session last Saturday, Cliff says. They also gave its first performance last week when invited to sing at a Christmas extravanganza in Sidley held to launch the Lottery-funded rejuvenation of the town.

“There were 19 in our choir, none of them had ever sung in public before,” Cliff says. “We gathered on the village green at 5 o’clock – some came with their carers, some with their partners. It was a fantastic experience. Now they’re all excited about Saturday’s concert.”

A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square - 94-year-old Olwen steals the show.

A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square – 94-year-old Olwen steals the show.

Saturday’s concert will be held in the evening at the Christchurch Blacklands Church in Hastings. In addition to Sunny Side Up, the line-up features the Silver Linings, a Hastings-based dementia choir, which, when he saw them last year, gave Cliff the inspiration for starting Dementia Support East Sussex. The show that night was stolen by 94-year-old Olwen, a former vaudeville performer, whose rendition of A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square left not a dry eye in the house.

Saturday’s concert also features a long list of groups and musicians only too happy to support the initiative.

Funding for Dementia Support East Sussex has come mainly from the Community Foundation of Surrey, with the Rotary Club of Hastings and the Isabel Blackman Centre also helping. The backing is enough to keep the work going for a year, Cliff says, enabling them, for example, to hire professional tutors – the aspirations are somewhat higher than just having a fun sing-along.

Cliff’s next aim is to set up a singing group in St Leonards, a move which the Isabel Blackman Centre strongly supports. There is also a call for the group’s services further afield. Lewes-based Action in Rural Sussex is supporting them in opening new clubs in rural areas – one has been started in Horam and they have a target-list of others to follow. They are also working with Amicus Horizon to open a club in Sidley in March.

Cliff is concerned at the bleak outlook for dementia sufferers in the face of the new budget cuts. “Next year adult care services will be hard hit by the new round of cuts, and the services available for people with dementia will be adversely affected,” he says. As public funding shrinks, the activities of voluntary groups such as Dementia Support East Sussex become ever more important.

The musical evening takes place on Saturday 12 December at Christchurch Blacklands Church, Laton Road, Hastings TN34 2ET, starting at 7pm. Entry £2. The line-up features Friends in Harmony, Mike & Tim, the Wobblies + A Handful of Ukuleles, Laura Heales, Sunny Side Up, Oresome Sounds, Gale Haffenden, Allsorts, Sheik’s Delight, Silver Linings, Silver Tones, Fiona Hunnisett, Petts Village Choir, Christchurch Blacklands Choir and the Divas. Michael Conn will accompany some of the acts on piano/organ.

Sunny Side Up singing group meets every Saturday, from 10am to 12 noon,
at Centenary House, Church Community Centre, 21 Holliers Hill, Bexhill TN40 2DH.
All dementia sufferers welcome. Contact Cliff Slack on 01424 212 519.

Dementia Support East Sussex website.

Donations can be made by cheque payable to the Hastings and Rother Credit Union at 49 Cambridge Gardens, Hastings  TN34 1EN – please write ‘Dementia Support East Sussex’ on the back.

Posted 13:14 Thursday, Dec 10, 2015 In: Health Matters

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