'Dementia Diagnosis Doesn't Mean Your Social Life Is Over!'

A former Swansea University professor has been singing the praises of Musical Memories Choir..which he says has been life changing for both him and his wife.

Michael Williams from Langland attends the choir at the Linden Church in West Cross with Wendy who has dementia. The couple have been together 60 years and have three daughters. 

He told us that Musical Memories Choir has been transformational after what he describes as two years of isolation.

Michael told us it was difficult initially for people who they'd known for years to understand why Wendy was acting the way she was. He told us their social circle shrunk because of this.

Wendy was diagnosed over a Christmas period 3 years ago after her family noticed something whilst she was driving. She had forgotten how to manoeuvre through traffic and was going the wrong way round.

Michael told us: "It was a shock at first getting the diagnosis. They told us she was in the early stages of frontal lobe dementia. At that point I began to read what dementia was - and the sheer range of it - the scale of difference between her type of dementia, vascular and Alzheimer's. The vast majority of the public straight away think of Alzheimer's."

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Michael initially didn't seek help. He thought he could cope on his own, doing all the roles Wendy and he used to once share -  until his daughters said 'you're being shredded you need help.' He told us: " At that point I didn't know what to do. I then decided to look where help was available. I simply phoned up my doctor and he said 'why didn't you come earlier?' and I said 'I was coping.' The critical thing I wanted to know was,  was I doing everything I could for my wife. Just having that conversation with a number of people at different organisations - all of sudden reassured me that I was doing the right things."

The next biggest step for Michael and Wendy was joining social groups. He said: " We had been rejected by social groups and we rejected others. We joined Forget Me Not which was mind-blowingly good and we came to the Musical Memories Choir which was explosively good! Just look around today - you will see people arrive worried and leave happy." 

The couple have made so many new friends and are able to enjoy each other's company doing the things they love, like singing and art. Michael says: "We were isolated for two years. Our week is now - Tuesday we go to an art group, Wednesday we go to Forget Me Not, Thursday we go to a art, Friday we go to the choir. That's quite a life. It's better than what we had before."

That's a sentiment echoed by Helen Hunter from the Red Cafe Community Project - which is part of the Linden Church Trust. Like all the initiatives it runs they are focused on connecting communities and bringing people together. Helen told us "It's all about coming together to sing, to enjoy friendship and to realise there are other people living through similar challenges to you.

"I think it makes a difference, because people realise they are not alone. I think in everything you face in life - if you know you are not the only one going through it - then things don't feel so difficult. People can share information about what's worked for them and where they've found sources of support. "

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Over a hundred people attend the Musical Memories Choir which meets each week in Manselton and West Cross  - with sessions led by choirmaster and soprano Ros Evans.

Ros sees on a weekly basis how music triggers memories. The power of that has also been recognised by health professionals in our region. The weekly choirs are funded by HMT Sancta Maria and Swansea Bay University Health Board supports Musical Memories 'on the road' initiative which takes singing into venues including Cefn Coed hospital, residential homes and day centres across the city. 

She told us: "Lots of people are really happy to tell you how much they enjoy coming and how their lives have been transformed. That's certainly not to do with myself - that's just a bigger thing of course - which is the music! Anybody could be doing what I do - I am just really lucky to be in the situation I am in being able to facilitate a bit of singing."

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If you want to find out more about the Musical Memories Choir click link: http://lindenchurch.com/musical-memories-choir

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