This Cafe In The UK Uses Music To Help People Living With Dementia

Ripaljeet Kaur runs the ‘Hamari Yaadain dementia cafe’ in England, and claims that using music helps bring back memories for dementia patients.

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Kaur is a senior dementia worker at the Yorkshire health and wellbeing charity, Touchstone. She specifically works with BAME (Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic) patients, and before the Covid-19 outbreak, once a week she would take her patients to attend a weekly music session at a cafe in Leeds. The group of older individuals were able to sing songs and listen to instrumentals during their weekly cafe meetings; something that Kaur claims helps bring back certain memories. 

Kaur’s specific group of patients that she works with predominantly live in south Asian communities, something which she also claims helps bond the group together in terms of memories. The common culture, language, and music stylings allow everyone to join together in remembering their youth through sound. “The cafe is a lifeline for some of them.” 

There are many community/charity-run programs and services for people suffering from dementia in the UK, however, according to Kaur very few of them can accommodate for the cultural/language barriers that most of her patients have to deal with. “It doesn’t help people with dementia to attend an event when they can’t participate or understand the other people there.” This lack of engagement is the opposite of what Touchstone strives for with the individuals they work for, so when they discovered how universally bonding music could be, they jumped on the opportunity to create a new program. 

“Music can be so powerful. It’s a big part of most south Asian communities; they have prayers, they listen to Bollywood. They have done that all their life.”

There’s an estimated 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK; about 25,000 of those individuals belong to BAME groups like Kaur’s in Touchstone.  It’s currently projected that in 30 years the amount of individuals living with dementia in the UK will double, however, among BAME communities, that number is expected to increase up to seven-times what it is now. 

The reason for this massive spike in BAME communities specifically is due to a multitude of reasons. Young onset dementia, for example, is much more common in minority communities. Studies have also suggested that vascular dementia is much more prevalent among BAME individuals when compared to white communities. Older Asian and Black Caribbean individuals also have higher rates of high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, and heart disease; all things that can increase the rate at which dementia develops internally. 

Mohammed Rauf is the founder and director of Meri Yaadain, an organization in the UK that specifically helps BAME individuals suffering from dementia. Rauf claims that in a lot of these communities there are extremely negative stigmas surrounding the conditions. Many refer to it as “madness, possession, or witchcraft, others believe it to be a punishment from God.” In fact, in five main south Asian languages there isn’t even a word for dementia. 

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“I fear that thousands of people from the BAME communities in the UK could be living with dementia in secret and undiagnosed because of the shame surrounding the disease. A lack of awareness of the condition among BAME communities means diagnosis rates are low.”

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Rauf and his organization have been calling upon the government to honor their pledge to double dementia research and pay special attention to the specific impact it has on BAME communities. He’s also a firm believer that using music within dementia care is an amazing way to bring enjoyment and help trigger memories in patients. 

“If you think about a mother with her baby, singing a lullaby, we are all born into rhythm, music, or song. Hearing music throughout our lives takes us back to enjoying that experience,” Rauf claimed in a recent interview. 

Kaur says that for some of her patients, the impact of the cafe music sessions only lasts as long as they’re actually there, however, for others their moods tend to remain positive for a while after. For example, Kaur recalled the son of one of her patients contacting her after one of the cafe visits and telling her that his mother’s mood “has completely changed” for the better. Both Rauf and Kaur are supporters of the organization Music For Dementia, a national campaign that’s goal is to make music available to everyone living with dementia, especially in the neglected BAME communities. 

“We don’t have a pharmacological solution to dementia yet but we do have this incredible tool [music] at our fingertips,” said Grace Meadows, Music For Dementia’s program director. Meadows claims that music can help dementia patients counter the overwhelming feelings of isolation, depression, and agitation that the illness often brings on. The biggest goal of her organization is to create new personalized music made for individuals with dementia specifically. 

As of right now the cafe in Leeds continues to host their weekly music sessions virtually for patients, but is aiming to expand the program when the pandemic is over and they have the ability to.