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Why is music even more relevant during a time of crisis?

Grace Meadows, Programme Director for Music for Dementia 2020

Music for Dementia is a national campaign leading the call to make music freely available as an integral part of care for people living with dementia.  Some of the UK’s most respected experts in the field of dementia, music, health, social care and politics are supporting the campaign.

Over the forthcoming issues we will be publishing a series of articles to provide expert comment on dementia and music as well as the broader health landscape we now find ourselves in.  This second blog by Grace Meadows, Programme Director for Music for Dementia 2020, who explores why music is even more relevant during this time of crisis.

In a crisis we panic. Our heart rate quickens, our stress levels rocket, and our anxiety is heightened. We move into a fight or flight state, and feelings can become inexpressible. Our instinct, as social creatures, is to be with one another physically, that way we can reassure. A comforting hug or holding of hands can reduce feelings of fear, soothing and calming an anxious mind. Importantly being with others tells us we are not alone.

Except in this crisis we haven’t been able to do that. Covid-19 has physically disconnected us. It’s put distance between us in ways we weren’t prepared for. As social beings, we become lost and lonely when we can’t be with our loved ones. It’s made many feel forgotten, left behind or ignored. Add to this a loss of control and freedom over our lives, on top of the isolation and loneliness many feel on a daily basis, and we have turned to what we know helps sustain us. Music.

Music is not the cure but certainly has been the antidote. It is part of the human fabric; what it means to be human. Music is in our DNA. It’s thought we sang before we developed language and the ability to communicate with words, to enable us to express emotions and intentions effectively. Throughout time, music has created social cohesion, brought us together and bonded us together to strengthen our sense of community. Covid has shown us that music hasn’t lost its touch in being able to do just that.

With the tectonic shifts this crisis has caused to the foundations of our lives, great chasms of isolation, loneliness, disparity, and injustice have been revealed in stark light. Music has provided a way of not only bridging these, but also showcased, and given a platform to, what this world needs more of. That is: understanding, compassion, empathy, joy, community and collaboration to heal both the trauma of the crisis but our underlying societal crises.

Music and relationships

Relationships are what sustain us, and in these times, music has helped to sustain relationships when we haven’t been able to do that in person. After all, music is a relationship. Sometimes just a relationship between you and the music, and other times a vehicle for a relationship with others. Music has created a sense of belonging and participation, community support and reassurance, a harmony that has strengthened and inspired us to keep going when we might feel ready to give up. It has been the one constant we have all been able to turn to and seek solace in.

For many, such as people living with dementia and their carers, the loss of routine has caused untold distress and anguish. What did feel familiar couldn’t now feel any more unfamiliar. Already disconnected, they find themselves further isolated and surrounded by people they no longer recognise because of PPE. However, we have seen how music has been able to reassure and comfort, allaying fears and being the hand that reaches out to connect.

In response to the change in routines, Music for Dementia published a Musical Guide with practical examples of ways to keep music going and updated its online Musical Map to highlight virtual performances and events. We also launched m4d Radio to help promote communication and connection, soothe or stimulate, according to the rhythm of the day.

Music and communication

In connecting, music has also enabled us to communicate; with ourselves and our feelings, with others, on a local and global level. In musically communicating (or are we communicating musically), we have been able to identify with others, experience the world through their ears, and importantly, experience it with them. We have expressed collective feelings, acknowledging each other’s struggle, whilst providing support. It’s enabled people to be heard and seen when they feel as though they’ve been forgotten about. It’s been a platform for recognition, allowing creativity, strength and innovation to shine through.

In a crisis, feelings can become inexpressible. Communicating with words can become a challenge when they are too much, not enough or no longer available. Through music, feelings can be expressed and processed. This is particularly important when there’s no one around you to help you work through or process feelings. Using music provides a way to manage stress and anxiety, providing respite and relief. With the non-stop coverage of the crisis, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed with nowhere to escape to literally or metaphorically because of a sense that Covid is everywhere. Psychologically, it takes us out of ourselves to other places and times. It transports us to other spaces and places in our minds. It provides escapism through the form of memories, storytelling and imagination. In doing so, it fulfils some of our need and wish to escape from being in lockdown. It enables our minds to travel even if we can’t physically.

During this time, we have perhaps been in touch with our minds more than ever before. Our minds need looking after as we endure this ongoing collective stress. Our psychological and physical states remind us what it is to be human and that we need to take care of ourselves and others. Music has psychically held us and joined us. It has provided us with the much-needed solace and comfort we’ve craved when we can’t be with others. It has fed us – nurturing, enriching and energising. It’s offered the light in the shade, the psychological and physical motivation, and lifted our spirits.

Listening

Music has created a different narrative for this crisis. It has shown us that we can support each other, that we need to value each other more, and attend to our relationships. It’s illuminated the importance of listening and the quality of the contact we offer to others. We’ve been able to hear the world in a new way through music.

Ultimately, music has enabled us to be human and to do what we need to do to survive during this crisis. Now we need to make sure we keep listening to the music as it helps us heal our way out of this trauma.

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