On Monday 20 January 2020, ‘Singing for the Mind’ at Farnham Maltings celebrated its 5th birthday.

The group was initially set up as part of Farnham Maltings’ ambition to ensure everyone can enjoy community life and to create a specific activity for people with living dementia and their carers. Over the years, the group has become an essential part of participants’ weekly routine. Musical aptitude and appreciation are two of the last remaining abilities in dementia patients. Singing for the Mind celebrates and utilises this, forging friendships and producing cognitive stimulation.

Singing for the Mind at Farnham Maltings involves a lively hour of singing for people with dementia and their carers. For half an hour before the singing, participants, carers and volunteers can mingle and chat over refreshments. The sessions are led by Barbara Rayner, who has been with the group since its inception. She observed that “people tend to think of dementia in terms of all the things you can no longer do, but sharing music together is something positive that people can still share”. Barbara ensures there is a wide variety in songs, ranging from jazz to gospel, celebrating the football world cup, UK Saints days, Christmas, and including the likes of Blue Moon, Hey Mr Miller and Love Me Tender.

The group was initially supported by the Alzheimer’s Society, but for the last few years Right at Home, who provide in-home care services, have sponsored Singing for the Mind. Hayley, a representative from Right at Home, who attends each week, says the group provides “cognitive stimulation in a friendly, inviting environment for the attendees. It also provides a chance for the carers to speak to others and share advice and information on caring for their loved ones”.

A study amongst carers for people with dementia showed that half of those who support someone for over 20 hours a week experienced loneliness (Alzheimer’s Society). Therefore, sessions are just as important for carers as those with dementia. Paul, who has been attending with his wife for over two years, says, “you lose yourself for an hour – we all need that”. Whilst Meg, a carer for her mother, describes the group as “a lifeline… it keeps me sane”.

The group is supported by a group of loyal and friendly volunteers many of whom have experienced dementia within their own families. Volunteers Anna and Sue have a lot of fun attending each week. Sue notes how the song choices trigger healthy nostalgia, but also provide a challenge for the mind, “through movement, memory, rhythm and musical variation – canons and rounds for example”.

The population of over 65s in Waverley is predicted to grow by 13.3% over the next 5 years (Waverley Borough Council Health and Wellbeing Strategy 2016-2021), and our ambition is to ensure that over the next 5 years the group can be accessed by those most in need of some lighthearted, cognitively stimulating singing.

If you are in the early stages of dementia yourself, care for someone with the disease, or know of anyone who might enjoy the group, do join us and help spread the word.

We also hold free Dementia Friends Workshops, which are open to anyone wishing learn more about dementia and the ways to support people with the disease. Workshops are running on 25 February and 09 June, both at 1pm at Farnham Maltings. Places can be reserved via our Box Office on 01252 745444.

Singing for the Mind meets every Monday, excluding Bank Holidays, in the Cellar Bar at Farnham Maltings from 1.30-3pm. £5 (carers go free) including refreshments.

Erin Beesley
Arts & Health Administrator

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