Dame Evelyn Glennie explores listening with people living with dementia

World renowned solo percussionist, Dame Evelyn Glennie, has taken part in a fascinating initiative aiming to connect in new ways with people who have dementia. The project is a joint collaboration from international non-profit foundation Memory Bridge and St Christopher’s Hospice. As part of the project Dame Evelyn visited two care homes in Bromley; Bromley Park nursing home in Beckenham (21 February) and Willett House Nursing Home in Chislehurst (22 February). Dame Evelyn visited several residents in their rooms, where, using very simple percussion instruments, they were able to explore together not just creating and hearing sounds but feeling the vibrations and resonance of the instruments, making connections on new levels. The sessions were filmed as part of a forthcoming documentary from Memory Bridge entitled ‘Love is Listening’.

Michael Verde, founder of Memory Bridge, explains, “Many people with dementia can feel emotionally isolated if they become unable to communicate with their loved ones or carers in the usual ways. But when someone has dementia, they still need to feel that they belong and that they matter.

“This initiative has been a wonderful way to look at how we can connect with people with dementia in ways that don’t rely on talking or even facial expressions. Dame Evelyn has such a heightened awareness of non-verbal communication and the links that she made with some of the residents simply by exploring percussion instruments were very touching.”

Marie Roe, Clinical Lead at Willett House, commented “We jumped at the chance when St Christopher’s approached us about this wonderful opportunity. Finding ways to make even the smallest connections with people who have dementia is terribly important. It was very moving to see one of our residents relax his hands and gently tap his feet; usually his hands are very stiff and it can be difficult to feel that you have made contact with him.

“Dame Evelyn might also provide some inspiration during our own music therapy sessions!”

Dame Evelyn has said that it’s her mission to improve communication and social cohesion by encouraging everyone to discover new ways of listening, and added that spending such intense periods with people with dementia has been an unforgettable experience.

Dame Evelyn explains, “This experience has been a real privilege and yet it’s a simple idea. You don’t need any musical ability to feel and hear the sounds of a drum but it provides a chance to be in the moment with someone and be in touch with them, which can be difficult with people with dementia. I’m looking forward to exploring these ideas further.”

St Christopher’s Hospice works closely with over 150 nursing and care homes in South East London, including Willett House in Chislehurst and Bromley Park in Beckenham. The St Christopher’s Care Home Team supports staff to deliver high quality end of life care, through implementing and sustaining an end of life care programme.