Dementia choir transforming lives of Cherry Wood Grange residents

Dementia choir transforming lives of Cherry Wood Grange residents zoom

A care home in Chelmsford has seen a ‘remarkable’ improvement in the health and wellbeing of its residents, especially those living with dementia, thanks to the home’s weekly music sessions.

Residents at Cherry Wood Grange, on Writtle Road, are encouraged to participate in the sing-along by the home’s lifestyle team, who have witnessed first-hand the power that music has on improving the mental health of those living with dementia.

The musical group regularly has around 20 members, many of which live on daffodil floor, the home’s specialist dementia unit.

Cherry Wood Grange, which offers residential, dementia and end of life care, organise for Becky Wasteney, a musician from Ace Music Therapy, to facilitate the activity.

Daffodil resident Terry Loveday is not one to regularly take part in group activities, but the 86-year-old has rediscovered his love of music and now plays an active role in the choir.

The home’s lifestyle lead, Bex Harmer, said: “Terry is a talented musician and in his younger days played the trombone. He has a powerful voice and is a great singer. He loves to join in, and as a jazz fan often scats with Becky.

“Like many people living with dementia, Terry can sometimes struggle with apathy and does not often take part in our activities, but we have seen a remarkable improvement in both his wellbeing and his social skills since he joined the music sessions.

“His love of music has been rekindled and he enjoys playing the different instruments which Becky from Ace brings with her. It has really been transformative!”

Community musician Becky, from the social enterprise based in Chelmsford, accompanies the singers on the keyboard and bongo drum, providing percussion instruments for the residents.

She said: “Despite the dementia and Alzheimer’s diagnoses which the residents battle, many of them remember who I am each week recall the songs that we sing.

“The choir has learnt new songs, as well as old familiar tunes, all of which they are able to retain. They love blues music and the sound of the djembe drum, and this always gets them dancing and expressing themselves.

“It’s a chance for them to communicate, smile, interact and let go!”

John Wheeler, aged 75, made Cherry Wood Grange his home in August last year and has been a devoted attendee of the music sessions ever since. John currently lives on the residential floor and is living with the early stages of dementia.

“It’s an absolute joy and I always have the best time,” said John.

“I dance, sing along to all the old classics, and love joining in with the drumming.”

Bex added: “John brings so much fun and enthusiasm. He loves to sing and dance and is wonderful at encouraging our other residents to join in too.

“Although John can struggle with memory loss, due to the dementia, he never forgets the joy he gets from the regular sing-along and always asks when the next one is.”

For one of the home’s newest residents, Pam Clifford, the musical activity has helped her to embrace her new home.

“Honestly, it is a pure joy to see the smile on Pam’s face as she joins in with the singing and dancing,” continued Bex.

“The transition to a care home can be a stressful time, but the power of music has most certainly helped Pam to settle in. She can usually be seen dancing, shaking her sleigh bells, and singing along to familiar favourites such as How Much is that Doggy in the Window.”

Sue Smith, manager at the home, said: “Music is incredibly therapeutic, we have seen a reduction in symptoms such as anxiety and agitation, it gets people moving – both in their seats and up on their feet – and it’s a great tool for encouraging participation and socialisation.”

Cherry Wood Grange are rated ‘Good’ by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and were Regional Finalists at the Great British Care Awards 2023 for ‘Putting People First’.