An Adventure, Music, Dementia and New Zealand – A Personal Story

I feel extremely fortunate to work be part of the collaborative we call 3 Spirit. There have been a lot of twists and turns in my business life: however, all necessary to end up in the place I am now. Adversity only makes us stronger, and reflection makes us better. The social care market has also had its twists and turns, mostly driven by public policy but sometimes by the brilliance of ordinary people. I have learnt that by having a willingness to share, and always having a focus on the true outcomes of your work, it is truly possible to touch lives through training. Through this process, I have learnt the importance of surrounding myself with like-minded people, all of whom are equally as passionate about their work, and all of whom I draw a lot of strength from.

A few years ago, alongside my brother and sister I had managed to build a first class business in health and social care training. We had won awards, and had made a difference to many of services and individuals that we had worked with. During this time I had met and worked with some of the best in the business, who have taught me so much @patriciaohara and @BehrensHelen to name but a few. I had also managed to complete a Master’s in Business, qualify from Bradford’s Post Grad in Dementia, write a book and have a baby. In my business, I built capacity from train to gain funding and practiced and refined our delivery model over a number of years. We thrived on partnership, transparency, and a deep commitment to upholding and maintaining human rights within our work. We worked in a local market environment enabling us to thrive. We worked with forward thinking commissioners, such as @markgwynne who has always had a rather innovative approach, which has ultimately fostered great outcomes. We also worked with, possibly the most powerful employer partnerships in the country, @HCPALtd, who understand how we can leverage our resources better by working together, headed by the brilliance of Sharon Davies @hcpaCEO. At this time we had started to develop our apprenticeship programmes and I felt a great sense of achievement, as it all came together. However, shortly after this, the new government came into power and it changed everything. I ran a business in two largely publically funded services; social care and education. We started to see persistent cuts to funding, as training was the first thing to go. We had to start to water down our services, provide less training on our apprenticeships, invest less in development etc. I had already worked very hard for a number of years, and now I had to put in more and more hours. The cracks started to show both in my business and home life.

Exhausted by it all, and after a moment of madness my husband and I decided to sell our cars, cash in our savings and travel around the world. It actually took a great deal more planning than that, but eventually in 2011, at the age of 40, we made it happen. I have two beautiful daughters, my eldest daughter was ten at the time, but my youngest was only one. We put our youngest daughter in a seated rucksack and set off around the world. With our two daughters, we picked relatively safe destinations. We travelled to Thailand, Canada, USA, Australia and New Zealand. Some of the highlights were running barefoot in the rain through a storm in New York, being part of the magical festival of lights in Thailand, swimming with literally hundreds of dolphins, chai latte and blueberry muffin whilst watching the sun set over the most stunning beaches, and standing over the beautiful, majestic, Niagra Falls in Canada. However the most special place of all, for me, was New Zealand. There is a beautiful stillness about the place, and a deep spirituality where you can immense yourself in miles upon miles of outstanding beauty. We stayed in New Zealand for only nine months, yet when I look back, to think what I achieved, in that time I am amazed.
When I got to New Zealand, I decided that I wanted to set down roots there, so that one day I could return. I used my skills in dementia care, and my persistent, hard working ethos to get noticed. It was not easy, cultural difference in business challenged me, but once I had got connected to the right people I was away. I was fortunate to become part of the workforce development group for the Dementia Cooperative, and in a position to influence policy around workforce development. I met the skilled and talented Leigh Kelly (@clinicalupdate) who took me under her wing and I started training in dementia care.

Away from my role as MD of a training business, I was able to immerse myself in development. It was here, when developing a course in non medical interventions in dementia care that I discovered music therapy. I must have been one of the first people to come across the inspirational Henry famous clip which I used as a powerful resource in my training. During this time I felt free to explore a wider range of research, some on the fringe shall we say. I was free to be innovative and creative in my training. What I learnt about the brain and music at that time, still continues to fascinate me. I am a firm believer in experiential learning so I brought music into my sessions. This was challenging as I did not share a history or culture with many of my students. I learnt from them, and talked to others to make my sessions deeply personal, and therefore meaningful. I discovered ‘Poi E’ and the story behind it which has significant cultural meaning for the Māori. This piece ignited many memories for my students. It gave me a platform to explore this in the context of how this tool could be used in dementia care.

I met many people in New Zealand both personally and professionally who had an enormous impact on me and my work. For example, Professor Steven Sabat or Kate Swaffer (@KateSwaffer), whose ideas are at the very forefront of my training delivery. I met Jude (@INsite_NZ) who liked my writing skills and enabled me to share my ideas, and thoughts about dementia, which continues to give me a voice in New Zealand.
So what did I learn during this time? It’s impossible to put this all into a blog, although my visual info -graphic does start to do that. I am at risk of making this blog too long, but below I have attempted to raise some key points.

Around the world dementia creates a significant economic problem, there is nowhere in the world immune to this. I have had a unique perspective, having worked on both sides of the planet. Services are stretched, and trying to think of ways in which to create more from less, and in my mind music offers in part, some solution to this. A relatively cheap, yet powerful resource which can be used to good effect.

Music and dementia therapy is widely researched, some of the research remains inconclusive. A Cochrane review was completed in 2011, which you may, or may not find interesting. Whilst evidence important, so are personal stories. I hear many positive stories of how music is used when I am training. It is always a delight and joy to share these powerful stories.

Evidence works well in training, bringing the human dimension which people may be able to relate. I would highly recommend @OliverSacks who has an uncanny ability to bring neuroscience to the realms of ordinary people through the power of story. I really enjoyed reading his book Musicophilla.
Music has been used from the beginning of time to heal; from medicinal plants in incantations to Ancient Greece. In the words of Plato ‘Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything’.

Music can be active or receptive, active often involves playing an instrument but can also include singing. For many of the people I teach receptive music is what they will use, however active music engages a wide range of cognitive skills, and from that perspective a great tool for cognitive stimulation.
I will refrain from going too deep into the realms of neuroscience, as much of it I still struggle to understand, and some of which even the best neuroscientists are still baffled with. I will say that music is well retained into the condition: It can access part of the memory which nothing else can. Music’s relationship is so intricate with the brain that Aldrige (2000) has argued that it can be used to assess cognitive damage more accurately than current assessment tools. Like language, music uses rules, grammar and syntax to organise sound, melody, rhythm, melody and harmony (Besson and Schon 2001). Yet when someone encounters difficulties with grammar and language as a result of dementia, this is not automatically correlated with the loss of ability to process music (Guetin et al 2012).

Music has a deep and meaningful relationship with our sense of self. This is significant in terms of dementia, as where a person self identity is starting to become eroded from memory loss, music can powerfully restore this. Our association with music often has a cultural, and emotional significance in our lives. It can elicit emotions and associations that have previously been forgotten. Music can be used to connect to people in very meaningful ways. As Naomi Feil shows when she works with Gladys. Another powerful resource we use in our training sessions.

Music can be used to give time and structure so someone who may have a limited sense of time, as a result of damage in the brain. It can be used therapeutically within social care services on so many levels, as it helps to orientate a person it can be used when someone is frightened or confused.
Technology has an important part of play in making this accessible and affordable. Organisations like @PLaylistForLife make an important contribution to this.

My love affair for New Zealand and music therapy continues, and I could say so much more, but fear it may be too much for busy lives. I will leave it here for now.

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