A musician-in-residence at a care organisation has revealed how a combination of music and art can provide a new beginning for people with dementia.
Nia Davies Williams, who works for the Pendine Park care organisation, has been bowled over at the way her music can transform the mood of residents, triggering their creative juices, tapping into latent memories and firing imaginations.
She says the type of music she plays affects the way people with dementia paint and how they paint it.
Mum-of-three Nia, a talented harpist, pianist and composer, is based at the Bryn Seiont Care Home in Caernarfon and in normal times also works at Pendine Park’s seven other care homes in Wrexham.
Her work at Pendine Park saw her step into the spotlight to receive a gold award at the Welsh care Oscars at Cardiff City Hall in 2018.
She was the winner of the Sir Bryn Terfel Foundation Wales Care Award for Promoting the Arts in Social Care.
Nia was nominated by colleagues for bringing ‘light and joy’ into the lives older people with dementia who can no longer communicate.
She is widely recognised as a leading authority on the use of music in dementia care and an article she wrote on the subject is soon to be published in a prestigious internationally-read Journal of Dementia Care.
After years of witnessing first hand how her music has inspired the home’s residents to produce colourful, intriguing and expressive artworks she said she has long considered writing in depth about the importance of music in dementia care.
Because the Journal goes online it means it will be read by her peers all over the UK and across the world.
She hopes to follow it up with an illuminating book based around her pioneering work at Pendine Park.
Nia was the first ever musician in residence to be appointed by a Welsh care home when she was recruited by Pendine Park.
She said: “It would not be true to say that our live music sessions are in anyway a cure or have medical connotations, but we are certainly pushing the boundaries in terms of recreational and lifestyle enrichment.
“Combining music with art sessions is enjoyable for so many residents. It can help relax participants and inspire them to pick up a paintbrush or crayon, to start creating spontaneous works of art. Sometimes the results are personal to them, sometimes they are more generic.”
“Melodious music, especially played on the harp, would be reflected in broad lines or spirals in greens and blues. Detached or staccato music would often be depicted in more dotted or blunt style and in strong colours such as red, orange, dark blues and black. Louder music would also promote these stronger colours, with soft music generating the use of softer colours.”
Before the pandemic struck groups of local schoolchildren, music groups or families have been invited to join the sessions to help further stimulate the artistic process.
Nia said: “These sessions can turn out to be doubly fruitful as the children come up with artistic ideas which can be taken on board by the residents or surprisingly reinterpreted by them. It is rewarding to see the young and old working together.
“Of course, at the moment, given the current strict COVID social distancing rules and necessary restrictions we are unable to interact with school groups in this way but hopefully in the future we can reinstate the community-inclusive sessions when it is safe to do so.
“We are fortunate here that the joy of live music has not been taken away and it definitely has helped ease some of the feelings of isolation residents may have experienced.
“Sadly many other UK care homes who rely solely on freelancers have not been able to continue with sessions like this or have had to resort to doing them on video conferencing sites. But experience has shown that people living with dementia do not relate so freely to screen technology in the same way. Their attention tends to drift and they can lose interest.”
It is Nia’s ultimate goal to enlighten more professionals in the dementia care sector about the benefits of using music as a therapeutic tool. She said the article was a first step on her mission to educate others in the field.
She added: “The article focuses specifically on the benefits of combining music with art sessions and how integrating the two can have startling results, but I am also working on and researching the benefits of using music therapy in general to enrich the lives of those living with dementia. I hope to go into this in more depth in my book and offer a useful guide as to how to successfully introduce music and arts sessions to those living with dementia.
“Ultimately I would love to see musicians in residence employed as a matter of course at care homes all around the country. I was so lucky here to be taken on here as the Pendine Park owners had such vision and were willing to invest in a project which they knew in their hearts had the potential to succeed.”
Company proprietors Mario Kreft MBE and his wife, Gill, are both passionate about the arts and appointed Nia following on from the success of having recruited Sarah Edwards as and artist in residence more than 25 years ago.
Mario said “Music and the arts have always been deeply embedded in Pendine Park’s ethos. Gill and I embrace the arts and culture in all its forms and have long recognised their importance in enriching the lives of our residents and staff.
“Pendine also supports around 30 arts organisations across Wales as well as community activities via the Pendine Arts and Community Trust and this is something we will continue to do as we come out of Covid.
“We are delighted that Nia is doing so much to impress on the wider reaches of the care sector the benefits of incorporating musical and arts activities in daily life at our care homes.
“We are also pleased to continue to support Nia in her musical activities outside work.”