Salvation Army launches group singing initiative for dementia sufferers

The Salvation Army has launched an innovative, spiritually-minded new programme to help those suffering from dementia, using singing to connect dementia victims and their carers, and to prompt memory recollection.

The 'Singing by Heart' scheme uses classic Christian hymns and popular songs of decades gone by to help stimulate memory recovery amongst those suffering dementia. In each group where it is used, specific songs are selected to ensure that they are well known by those present. Each song also begins with a reading of Scripture and closes in prayer.

The Salvation Army shared the story of Bill, 86, who has been bringing his suffering wife Anita, 81, to the Singing by Heart session in Sedgley in England's West Midlands since October last year.

Anita has been suffering memory loss and anxiety for the past two years, but the Salvation Army programme has provided profound respite.

Salvation ArmyParticipants at a 'Singing by Heart' group.

'Singing by Heart is the one day in the month when I can see Anita full of life and engaged in an activity,' Bill said. 'It's amazing to see her being sociable with others, and it's like she's back to her previous self. I've found it difficult to get any positive responses from Anita in the past but the enthusiasm and humour of the leaders at Singing by Heart is the key to its success. We were even up doing the hokey cokey at the last meeting. Every month our daughter comes with us to the session and it's seeing Anita smile again that keeps us coming back to spend this special time together as a family.'

Ivy, 85, has been in the same group since September. 'I'm a firm believer that everybody loves music and the happiness it can bring,' she said.

'My mother suffered for many years with dementia and I really think she would have enjoyed a group like this. Seeing everyone connect with the music in the room is wonderful. Caring for someone with dementia can be so hard and sometimes a smile is all you want. That is what Singing by Heart can offer.'

The scheme was the brainchild of Lee Highton-Nicholls, a specialist in ministries reaching the elderly for the Salvation Army.

'After working with people living with dementia for many years I was interested to see how we could create an experience for people to engage in prayer, bible reading, and worship. Singing always seems to enable the individuals involved to connect with others around them in a unique way,' Lee said.

'We are very excited to see Singing by Heart being rolled out to groups across The Salvation Army to connect with people living with dementia and their carers. We believe it offers people the opportunity to enjoy singing together in a relaxed and fun way; whilst offering a way of connecting spiritually through prayer and scripture readings.'

Salvation ArmyThe programme integrates singing of various popular songs with Scripture and prayer.

Andrew Wileman, assistant director of Older Peoples Services at The Salvation Army, said: 'We believe everyone has equal value and is loved by God. Often people with dementia can be overlooked, and our local churches are at the forefront of welcoming older people to weekly lunches, clubs, and activities. These activities are not only important in communities to help combat loneliness and isolation, but we also see older people with dementia and their carers coming to us in need of support.'

He said the scheme could provide help combat the isolation facing dementia sufferers and their carers, providing both with a 'social situation and support network'.

Singing by Heart has already been run at several Salvation Army churches, but the charity hopes to roll the programme out across the UK and the Republic of Ireland, and has produced a song lyric book and training video to support those running it. For a church to run a singing group they must first take the 'Dementia Friends' course, produced by the Alzheimer's Society.

For a video detailing more about the programme, and displaying a Singing by Heart session, click here