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How silent discos are making dementia patients ‘smile for first time in years’

PUBLISHED: 12:30 19 February 2020 | UPDATED: 12:30 19 February 2020

Carers and residents at St John's House Care Home, Norwich, dance at a silent disco. Photo: Fiona Mawby

Carers and residents at St John's House Care Home, Norwich, dance at a silent disco. Photo: Fiona Mawby

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Families watched in wonder as their elderly relatives, many of who have lived with dementia for years, danced around the living room of a Norfolk care home, singing out loud to the music playing through their headsets.

Carers and residents at St John's House Care Home, Norwich, dance at a silent disco. Photo: Fiona MawbyCarers and residents at St John's House Care Home, Norwich, dance at a silent disco. Photo: Fiona Mawby

Music has long been recognised as a tool for helping people living with dementia rediscover "golden memories", as well as maintaining speech and language and aiding stress relief.

For Sally Harl, from Norwich, sharing the transformative power of music has become a full time mission.

Her organisation, Let's Dance, tours silent discos to groups all over the county, including dementia specialist care homes.

Participants are given headphones, which play their choice of music as their carers dance around the room with them.

Carers and residents at St John's House Care Home, Norwich, dance at a silent disco. Photo: Fiona MawbyCarers and residents at St John's House Care Home, Norwich, dance at a silent disco. Photo: Fiona Mawby

St John's House care home, in Norwich, is one of the homes taking part in the scheme, which has been widely praised by carers.

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Ms Harl said for many families, this is the first time they have seen their relative smile for a long time.

She said: "There's a real festival atmosphere. People lose their inhibitions and sing as well. It's spectacular. It's uplifting for everyone involved and you leave on such a high. It's wonderful for people to be able to see their loved ones engaged and happy."

The custom playlists are fantastic at triggering reminiscence, and Ms Harl said that often leads to conversations about happy memories.

She said: "Listening to the music through headphones transports them to another world. All they can hear is the music. It inspires conversation about when they first heard the song, what they were wearing and which pub they were in."

As well as boosting mental wellbeing, the silent discos help participants engage with gentle exercise, although Ms Harl said some people just enjoy sitting and watching.

In June, Let's Dance will begin offering silent discos in public spots around Norwich, including Chapelfield Gardens and the Castle Quarter.

Ms Harl said the scheme was "needed more than ever", and that she hoped to roll out silent discos to care homes across Norfolk.


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