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Dementia

The N Word Project: Music Therapy For Dementia

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We’ve all been there. Aimlessly staring out of the window of a bus with our headphones on, watching the raindrops chase each other down the glass as we genuinely believe that we’re in a music video! And then all of a sudden, a song from our youth leaks into our consciousness and unexpectedly makes our heart thump with pleasure. The first few bars, verse or an 80s power ballad key change evokes a feeling that is impossible to replicate at will. It’s a song that punches you right in the adolescent feels and you bloody love it!

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Music has the extraordinary ability to transport us all to a place usually in our childhood or a vivid nostalgic memory. It triggers a scene in your head where you can not only see the moving pictures, but you can feel the raw emotions that particular song has sparked especially if the memory is a sad one. I can still hear Blackstreet ‘No Diggity’ blasting from the car stereo of a lad’s Ford Fiesta after I told him I fancied him when I was 16… and he responded with turning the volume up! The salty sting of humiliation is still strong 20 years later!

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The idea of a ‘memory bump’ or a ‘reminiscence bump’ is a psychological term used to determine the age at which we would have likely had an emotional connection to music. This has been identified as being between 10 – 30 years old with a higher concentration of memories in our early 20s. For example, if someone wanted to unlock my brain and pin point the type of music I instantly resonate with (that could also potentially make me fall off a treadmill at the gym in a euphoric frenzy), it would be 90s RnB with a little bit of early 2000 cheesy pop from my hazy days at university.  

This is my nan Theresa. She’s 86 years old. She wears layers on top of layers which never made sense. She always asks me if I’ve eaten. She used to make amazing curry goat with rice and peas. She repeats the same questions every few minutes. She’s hilarious. She’s still very much awesome. She has dementia.

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The last time I visited her we had great chats and laughs, and she knew exactly who I was. The next day my uncle said, “So you got to see Shem yesterday!” And she replied with a blank stare as if he was making outlandish statements. She had no recollection of me being there and it’s shit like that which hurts my heart.

My nan loves nothing more than sitting in her armchair listening to gospel or country music. That is where she’s happiest and when she’s more like the nan I knew. I once wrote in a story, “Music was a time machine. It had the power to pick me up like a claw machine at a seaside arcade and then drop me down in a memory I thought I had lost.” And I have never felt those words more than I do when I look at my nan smiling at a music DVD of Daniel O’Donnell!

By 2025, 1.1 million people are expected to be living with dementia in the UK.

The power of music therapy connecting with an individual and unlocking a part of their brain they never knew still worked, is old news. Yet, even with this knowledge only 5% of care homes offer a decent music program for dementia patients. There are however some care homes leading the way with music programmes that are created by dementia charity Playlist For Life. And those nursing homes advocating and implementing these musical activities have recorded big reductions in patients using anti-psychotic meds to control their dementia with as much as a 60% decrease.  

Playlist For Life is an awesome resource that not only allows you to create a musical playlist for people living with dementia, but they have tools and training to help carers integrate music into an individual’s life. They have also recently collaborated with the BBC to bring Music Memories which is a website designed for those with dementia to re-establish a link to memories. It’s essentially a database of 1800 songs from the last 100 years including TV theme tunes. After selecting a genre and decade, you are given a list of songs to play. You can then share your playlist (with a few personal background details) to help others discover music that may help someone else. 

A video went viral in 2014 from the documentary Alive Inside that featured an old dude called Henry with Alzheimer’s whose face exploded with animation after listening to his iPod. That clip not only made me ugly cry, but it also proved exactly how the force of music drags out the person who we think maybe lost, when in fact they’re just taking a little nap until their jam comes on!  

If you know anyone who is living with dementia and you’re finding it hard to verbally communicate with them, then throw on a CD you think they would love or create a bespoke playlist just for them… and let the music form a conversation.

 

The N Word : The Nostalgia Project

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I’m that person who can be found most days saying, “remember when…” with a warm glow in my heart as I fondly reminisce about a childhood memory. If I could camp out in 1992 with my Nintendo Game Boy, Captain Planet on a giant television set whilst wearing a highly flammable shell suit, then I would steal a Delorean time machine and make that shit happen! Nostalgic musings of awesomeness is where I shine brightest!

The sentimentality of a memory is an important component to life. It first emerged from the Greek words nostos meaning ‘homecoming’ and algos meaning ‘ache’. It was later coined in the 17th century to describe the medical condition of anxiety. Since then the word has spawned a slightly different meaning associated with romanticism and the longing for those ‘good old days.’ Nostalgia can be anything from a smell, to a touch to an event in one’s past. It can also be stumbling into your parent’s garage and finding forgotten bottles of Archers peach schnapps and Malibu rum that instantly throws you back to being a teenager... sleeping in fields with vomit in your hair!

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Nostalgia evokes strong vivid reactions in the human brain. The smell of freshly cut grass makes me think of playing football in the school holidays with my brother. This stimulus alone provokes once dormant memories to fizz in my brain and etch-a-sketch a little smile on my face no matter how much of a shitty day I may be having.

Although nostalgia was once considered in a negative light with images of melancholy, homesickness and anxiety, it is now thought of as a trope for improving mood and creating positive emotions. Nostalgia is also a fantastic coping mechanism when life smacks you in the face with adulting!

What is The N Word Project?

After spending an afternoon with my nan who has dementia, I decided that I wanted to explore what nostalgia means to different people. The potent power of childhood memories and past experiences are the things that keeps my nan smiling when she’s feeling confused with modern life, so I wanted to discover the importance of these reflective moments in our lives. The N Word Project is a collection of interviews with interesting folk as I try to figure out what nostalgia is all about.

First up is Brandon Felczer who part owns the amazing retro arcade bar Token in Dublin. They opened in 2017 and offer not only 30+ original video arcades and pinballs to play with, but also some seriously delicious gourmet food and of course booze to accompany all that gaming!

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How did you get involved in Token?

I arrived in Dublin in December 2016 with two suitcases and no idea what I was going to do! I had a dream to live in Ireland and I had 90 days to figure it all out. So, I was talking to friends and thought about setting up a restaurant or bar. My friends suggested a retro arcade bar because they’re really popular in the states. So, I Googled 'retro arcade bar Dublin' and an article from Lovin Dublin two years previous popped up. I decided to reach out via Facebook to the company and Nick the primary founder, and I asked to be involved… And here we are!

What do you think it is about Token that makes it so popular?

It’s unique! There is nothing like it in Dublin. It gives you something different to do other than just coming in and having something to eat or drink. It’s great as a date night venue, we do community events, there’s food challenges and monthly specials and we are always evolving making changes based on what we hear from customers.

For me nostalgia and childhood memories make me feel like I’m hugging a hot water bottle or placing a warm towel over my eyes. What kind of emotions or imagery evokes nostalgia for you?

For me it’s definitely retro graphics like the screens that you see, retro clothing and certain colours and old cars. I love what’s going on in Stranger Things and how you get sucked into this world of the past.

What was your first gaming console?

Super Nintendo! My uncle gave it to my me and my sister for a present and it was my first experience on a gaming console. Super Mario Bros! I was obsessed with it and haven’t stopped playing games since.

What was your favourite video game?

My favourite game isn’t actually a retro game but it’s the Unchartered Series. It’s amazing! It started on the Playstation and has four core games and one spinoff. That and The Last of Us. Amazing cinematics and all about the narrative. I really love narrative driven games that make you feel like you’re playing a movie.

What retro game throws you right back into being a kid again? Mine is Streets of Rage on the Mega Drive!

I would say Super Mario World and Zelda, especially Ocarina of Time on the Nintendo 64. It’s won a lot of best game awards. It’s literally one of those masterpieces that has been untouched by time where you can keep playing it over and over and transports me right back to my childhood and trying to get through that water temple!

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Do you think Token taps into the sentimentality and fond memories of youth as a marketing tool?

Oh absolutely! It’s all about being a grown-up kid without the kids screaming around you! From 4pm daily we’re 18+ (age) So you can come in and be a kid again, play games and eat fun tasty food. It’s a place to come and let your guard down and just throw back to what you would do as a kid and also drink a little bit! All of our games have drink holders, so you can continue your sippage and sesh while you’re gaming!

If you had a time machine/Delorean, which age would you go back to and live for a week and why?

Oh my gosh! I’ll probably have to say 6th grade when I was 12. I think I finally came into my youth and got out of a really awkward phase! I had really fun friends where we played a lot of games. And Final Fantasy 7 was out! That’s actually up there with one of my favourite retro games as well. It was before you started working, but you still had some responsibility and you valued your free time with your friends and I filled a lot of my time with gaming. Yeah, I definitely would go back to when I was 12! Young, dumb, carefree, hitting puberty but it was a fun time!

Do you think that it is unhealthy to still live in the past? Does nostalgia and reminiscing about the good old days prevent us from moving forward and grabbing new adventures and opportunities?

I think it is totally fair to enjoy your past and relive some of that. But I think you should apply that to your mindset of today and how you are as a person. But it is kinda fun to let go of things and be transported to the past and put on a retro game and not worry about what’s going on in the world. It’s just dumb fun! And I think dumb fun is ok once in a while. I do believe your past is the past. Like if I had a time machine I would have the option to go back but I would also choose not to go. Because everywhere I’m at from the past has led me to where I am now, and I focus on that. I do reflect on the past, so I don’t repeat the same mistakes and I take my learnings forward, but I think you can separate out retro fun and dwelling too much on the past.