Singing for the Brain: ‘I watched my mother come alive in those sessions - and now they’re gone’

09:54 22 May 2014

A dementia event and Singing for the Brain taster session at the IRDSA Hall, in Barkingside

A dementia event and Singing for the Brain taster session at the IRDSA Hall, in Barkingside


Those living with dementia and their carers have sung its praises, but it looks as though an innovative programme that uses music and dance may have had its swansong.

May 18-24 is Dementia Awareness Week. Here’s what’s going on in Redbridge

n Thursday, 11am, Valentines Park (meet at Mansion Cafe): Dementia walk in conjunction with Dementia Adventure

n Thursday, 10am-2pm, South Woodford Library: Information and Awareness session hosted by the Alzheimer’s Society

n Friday, 11am-1pm, Mildmay Locality Base, 69 Albert Road, Ilford: Asian carers drop in and dementia awareness information session

n Friday, 10am-2pm, Wanstead Library: Information and Awareness session hosted by the Alzheimer’s Society

Singing for the Brain is an Alzheimer’s Society project which brings together those affected by dementia for sessions of singing and dancing in a stimulating, social environment. For one Redbridge pensioner, it was a lifeline.

In 2011, 84-year-old Lucilla Kostecka was diagnosed with the progressive condition, and quickly started to feel depressed, stigmatised and isolated. That was until late 2013, when she and her 50-year-old daughter Loretta, who is also her primary carer, started attending NHS-funded Singing for the Brain sessions at IRDSA Hall in Fullwell Cross, Barkingside.

“What a difference it made to both of us and to my fellow group members,” says Loretta.

“My mother, like others, despite not knowing where she is, goes through the door and starts smiling and looks pleased to be there.

“She knows and associates the hall with safety and happiness, seeing genuine, friendly people around greeting her. “It does not take much persuasion for her to get ready for the session in the afternoon when I remind her of the ‘singing and dancing group’.”

But in February this year, funding ran out, and Redbridge Council decided it didn’t have the cash in its coffers to go on paying for the service because “there are already a number of other similar schemes for residents in operation around the borough”.

As well as the rare chance for many to access long-term memories music preserves, gone is the opportunity for Lucilla and others like her to socialise in a sensitive and compassionate space.

“I have witnessed my mother and others become responsive when addressed, touched on the hand or encouraged on to the dance floor, becoming alive and buoyed on by sharing a happy experience with someone else,” adds Loretta, who is particularly irked that a few miles away in Havering, dementia sufferers and their carers have no less than three active Singing for the Brain groups to choose from.

Nationwide, there are 200 active groups run by the Alzheimer’s Society. Their regional operations manager for London, Julian Lloyd, has said the decision to close the service was not one taken lightly, but with no funding they were left with no alternative.

The charity also plans to use an opportunity provided by Redbridge Council’s dementia strategy consultation to lobby for Singing for the Brain to be considered a “priority service”.

There may be hope yet, but for now Loretta Kostecka and her mother will have to wait.

• Dementia Awareness Week runs until Sunday, with several events – including some organised by the council – taking place in borough

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