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Forget Me Notes Project: Dementia, Isolation, And The Power of Music

With the increasing awareness and focus on dementia, it is always clearer that music therapy can significantly impact the lives of those affected.

Edinburgh’s based charity The Forget Me Notes Project is well aware of the unique power of music, and throughout a series of activities and music workshops, aims to combat isolation and give moments of joy and clarity to individuals fighting dementia, their carers, and any other vulnerable individual.

Chief Executive, Alan Midwinter, summarizes the objectives of the project.  The charity aims to bring together people living with dementia and non, prove and value the power of music and community and their positive impact on vulnerable people, fight misconceptions, and create a dementia-friendly and positive environment that enhances the capabilities of its members.

The Forget Me Notes Project became a charity in 2018, believing that music is a powerful tool in treating dementia. They have even launched a campaign in favor of a Music Health Plan, which asks to formally recognize the impact of music on our health and daily lives.

A Music Health Plan works by creating a personal playlist, in which songs and sounds essential for an individual are stored to be used at the moment of need by a health professional and carer to stimulate the patient’s memories and improve their mood and well-being.

In an interview, Elizabeth White, Volunteer Coordinator of Forget Me Notes, states: ‘Music benefits the person, the family, and those caring; it’s not a magic answer for a disease as complex as dementia but we like to feel there is a certain spark of magic to be found within it!’

The connection between music, brain activity, and memories is an established one. A study, among others, has proven that music has a powerful impact on our brains. Music is everywhere present in our daily life, and it marks important moments, fixating them with memories. Experts have observed that listening to music lights up parts of our brain that nothing else can. One can suggest that listening to music is equivalent to a workout for the brain.

The mental activity and interaction with memories are essential when dealing with people with dementia. Music is proven to stimulate different parts of the brain than language. For this reason, even if a person can no longer talk or answer other people's words, music may be used to communicate or engage with them. Functioning as a bridge with memories, music can help improve quality of life, lower anxiety and depression, and maintain speech abilities and language.

However, NHS England has reported that despite its proven positive impact, only 5% of individuals in care houses who suffer from dementia or other severe memory issues can access music therapy sessions. The Forget Me Notes Project aims to increase this percentage and change the world ‘one step at a time’, writes Midwinter.

The variety of activities offered by the charity is diverse and inclusive. They include indoor and outdoor choir rehearsals at Edinburgh’s Saughton Park and Salvation Army Hall, which are becoming increasingly more popular. The project has also designed Music Memory Sessions. These are music workshops that bring music to community settings and private residencies. They are led by trained volunteers who facilitate music and lyric sheets.

A volunteer declares: ‘These times of singing, sharing emotions together allow people to give and receive care in a more thoughtful and meaningful way,’ defining the sessions as ‘events that bring with them energy.’ 

Unity, empowerment, support. These are some of the goals of The Forget Me Notes Project, and, as volunteers and members note, the enthusiasm and devotion towards them are tangible in every session and every song sung by the choir. The George Hotel, St Brides Community Centre, Herriot Watt University, Dynamic Earth, Radio Forth, and, most recently, Edinburgh’s National Museum of Scotland are just a few of the locations where the Forget Me Notes have performed around Edinburgh.

Additionally, Forget Me Notes also organizes fundraiser events which every year attract more attention. For example, the concert event, held in partnership with Capital Theatres and MGA Dance Academy, and a singing marathon saved on zoom from 8 am until 8 pm, which this year too has been a great success, raising an impressive number of donations.

Among the many achievements, Forget Me Notes has also been shortlisted for Scottish Charity Award 2022 for the ‘People's Choice' award and in the 'Digital Citizen' category for the charity’s efforts during the Covid-19 pandemic.

In fact, with the pandemic’s outburst and the consequent lockdowns and restrictions, Forget Me Notes never gave up on its mission. The pandemic has been a complex and challenging time, especially for vulnerable people, who found themselves fighting isolation even harder. It is thinking of these people that the charity deemed its aims even more relevant and essential to offer support during these uncertain times.

The sessions were moved to zoom, with many people joining the call to sing together, even if physically far apart. Music did offer a means of unity and comfort. To date, the charity continues to provide weekly Zoom choir sessions, which have made the project even more accessible.

It was during the pandemic time that the choir got to be known internationally and connected with an Italian charity called AIMA (Associazione Italiana Malattia di Alzheimer), an organization offering support to those living with Alzheimer’s disease and any other kind of dementia and their family.

The charity currently counts 19 volunteers and is on the quest to welcome more people living with dementia to receive music memory sessions directly into their homes or care homes. They also welcome everyone to discover more about them on their website, contact them directly, and if possible, donate to fund the project.

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