(Emine Saner’s article appeared in the Guardian, 11/12.)
Kathryn Smith, director of operations at the Alzheimer's Society, visited a singing group in Wales run by the charity as part of its Singing for the Brain programme. One woman with Alzheimer's would sit in silence, smiling occasionally. Nobody had ever heard her speak. But when the group started a song in Welsh,suddenly this lady started singing.
"Memories are hard to retrieve," says Smith, "but music can help. If they hear a song from their childhood or youth, that might remind them. Perhaps this lady felt able to communicate because her first language was Welsh. She might have been struggling to remember how to communicate in English."
Smith says she isn't surprised by the results of a new study on the benefits of singing for people with Alzheimer's, recently presented at the Society for Neuroscience conference in the US. American academic Linda Maguire studied 45 people between the ages of 70 and 99 at a US care home over a four-month period. All took part in three singing sessions a week, divided into groups of singers or listeners. Maguire found that the singing group showed improved mental ability.