Pat French is 87-years-old and has dementia with Lewys bodies, the third most common cause of dementia in the UK.
Despite struggling to recognise her family at times, the grandmother from Bedford can still remember all the words to her favourite songs. That’s everything from the country melodies of American singer Jim Reeves to the folk music of Australian-influenced band ‘The Seekers’.
And it’s little things that trigger these musical memories such as picking up a poppy from the dashboard of her Home Instead CAREGiver’s car and breaking into verse singing ‘I Vow to Thee, My Country’.
Pat is one of around 100,000 people in the UK living with the condition which causes common dementia symptoms including problems with memory and thinking skills.
Her daughter Emma Muncaster, a full-time nurse said: “Although she can’t often remember who I am, she can remember all of the words to her favourite songs which is incredible.
“Music calms mum down when she is agitated, and she sings along for ages. She used to be in a choral society and so singing takes her back to those happy times and we treasure the happy moments singing along with her.”
Pat received care at home from her Home Instead CAREGiver Barbara until she recently moved into a residential home. Pat had formed such a strong bond with Barbara that she still receives twice weekly companionship visits at the home where she now lives. In addition, Pat has a visit from CAREGiver Wendy who takes her out to church lunches which she used to help with.
Barbara, who lost her own mum to dementia, said: “It’s a cruel, cruel disease both to the person and to their family. I have seen dementia rob Pat of so much which is why it’s so joyous that music can help lift her – it means I can see a little bit of the ‘old her’. We love singing together and she lights up when she sings which just melts my heart.”
Talking about when Pat picked up the poppy from her car dashboard, Barbara said: “To see Pat pick up that poppy and start singing the hymm was incredibly moving and very emotional, showing the true impact music has.”
Home Instead launched #SongsToRemember – a national campaign earlier this year raising awareness of the therapeutic benefits of music for people living with dementia.
Research has shown that memories of old songs activate very specific areas of the brain, which seem to be particularly resistant to the damaging effects of the disease.
Pat’s daughter Emma added: “Dementia can feel so isolating which is why it is amazing to have the support of Home Instead and in particular our CAREGiver Barbara who has personal experience of dementia. Barbara was able to offer the family really useful advice on how to live well with dementia. Pat loves her visits from Barbara and we’re so glad that they still continue as they bring such joy to her life.”