Wired for music – Singing for the brain

Stylised illustration in purple tones of people singing for the brain. Alzheimers society ribbon in the foreground

– Image by Leap sustainability designer Chevonne

Every year, our crew are encouraged to take up to five paid volunteering days. It’s good for the community but also good for us. Our finance & sustainability manager Claire regularly volunteers with the Alzheimer’s Society’s local Singing For The Brain group.

In early 2019 my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. In June 2020 he sadly died. During that time, I not only saw the decline in him with his memory, but also others within the care homes.

Just like people in general, no two people with Alzheimer’s are the same. People might be at different stages of the disease and have different challenges, but everyone is still a person. No matter how ‘locked-in’, agitated or even aggressive someone may appear, there is a person beneath that, who in most cases, is able to engage in some level of communication. I had some great conversations while he was in the care home.

Of course, that experience in the care home setting was with those already quite far down the path. The people who attend the Singing For the Brain sessions usually still live at home and attend with a partner or relative.

We sing all kinds of songs, but mostly those that are popular, and therefore instantly recognised by everyone. I have always loved to sing, from my primary school choir days to being a member of the school folk group, and then in local am-dram. Nowadays I mostly sing in my car – but I still love it.

It is a very uplifting session, lots of chatting with a cup of tea at first, followed by the singing session. You can clearly see the positive effect it has on those who attend.

I feel privileged to be part of it.”

– Claire, Leap finance & sustainability manager

Music and art for mental and physical health

It’s been super interesting to learn more about both Alzheimer’s disease and dementia as well as the very real benefits of arts and music through Claire’s experience. The role of creative arts for mental health and health in general is great – and universal. Music in particular has been shown to help with stress, elevate mood and even reduce pain. Our brains are literally wired for music. For people with Alzheimer’s disease, music can also act as a bridge to help retrieve old memories and be a source of joy in confusing and scary times.

The stress and anxiety busting power of sound and music was the focus for a recent client project for Barnardo’s and IKEA’s LifeLabs. Together with a group of care experienced young people, we created a first-of-its-kind mindfulness AR Snapchat lens. The lens allows you to build up relaxing soundscapes using the environment around you. You can check it out here.

Snapchat filter example of use

It turns out belting out some Fleetwood Mac in the car is a scientifically proven and effective way of relieving stress and tension. Studies have shown that singing releases both endorphins and oxytocin as well as stimulating the vagus nerve, which all helps to reduce stress and anxiety.

Thanks Claire for sharing your voice and experience. Team karaoke anyone?