Wanstead’s musical memories group helps dementia sufferers reconnect with the present

Musician Glenn Bassett and Brian Richards singing a song during a musical memories session earlier t

Musician Glenn Bassett and Brian Richards singing a song during a musical memories session earlier this week. - Credit: Archant

“When you are singing or dancing everybody is equal.”

In the common room of a day centre, a group of people are dancing and singing to the music of guitarist Glenn Bassett, playing ballads of the 1930s to the rock’n roll of the 1950s and 1960s.

This is no one-off performance, it is the musical memories group, a highlight of the week for participants with dementia, mental health or any form of learning disability and their carers.

As part of learning disability week, the Recorder went to meet the people, who live the present by singing the past.

Holding maracas, singing old songs and dancing in pairs or on their own, it is a day-time party, which takes place every Monday morning at the Woodbine Clubhouse, Woodbine Place, Wanstead.

Jean Richards, 73, of Seven Kings, comes every week with her husband Brian, 77, who suffers from dementia.

“When he is here he thoroughly enjoys it and it makes a big difference.

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“He knows all the old songs and remembers them.”

Mrs Richards said Brian used to play the piano and still goes straight to sit at the wooden stool, when he arrives at the centre.

Always up dancing and signing along, he remembers all but one of the songs.

Janet Hull, 85, also of Seven Kings, accompanies her husband Jack, 96.

“It opens them up when they are here. Jack starts singing. It’s one of the few things that you can enjoy together – those songs.”

The centre’s service manager Alison McCabe added: “This is a way of reconnecting through music. To find some kind of connexion between husband and wife and loved ones again.”

Kevin House, 67, of Woodford Green, used to go to the singing for the brain group with his wife Joyce, 71, who has advanced dementia.

It closed a couple of years ago and so for him, this is an important part of the week.

He explained the sessions “stimulates” Joyce and gives him “the pleasure to see her responding”, when she wants to get up and dance.

“Everybody enjoys it in their own way. This is a lifeline for a lot of people.

“This is an opportunity to do something rather than sit at home.”

Musician Glenn said the key for the session to work was the participation of people through singing, dancing, playing percussion and proposing their own songs.

“It’s social and it’s fun but the well-being aspect is absolutely crucial. I wouldn’t change what I am doing for the world.

“These people benefit and need music the most and we make it together.”