Rhythmix - Case Study


People who are living with dementia find it increasingly difficult to say how they feel and what they need. As the brain ceases to function as well as it once did, people lose the memory not just of people and places but of how to do things. It’s a distressing, complicated and exhausting time for families.

When we started working with people living with dementia in Sussex 5 years ago, we knew that we had a valuable tool that could build a bridge across the isolation caused by dementia and that could help hospitals to improve the care that people with dementia receive. We met Lois* in hospital in Sussex. She is living with dementia and was described to us as having very high levels of anxiety. As we started our music making journey around the ward, we could see how distressed she was. Lois appeared to be hallucinating and looked very scared. We approached her bedside very slowly using our voices to create a soothing, reassuring melody. Lois slowly started to calm down. She stopped shouting for help, and eased her grip on the side of her bed. Her body now relaxing, her breathing slowed and deepened.

As in all our music making, we found the particular songs that really meant something to Lois; the songs that got her singing with us, tapping out the rhythm with her hand or moving her feet in time. She loved “My Bonnie lies over the ocean”. It seemed to be her song. Most importantly it helped her to feel safe. Making music can provide short but very intense moments of connection for people with dementia, the effects of which ripple out for some time. When we worked with Lois, the soundscape on the ward changed, if only temporarily, as her cries for help were replaced by the sound of her singing with us.