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Last Thursday saw the first episode of the BBC’s new programme, Our Dementia Choir - a show that follows a choir of dementia sufferers, put together by Vicky McClure in the hope of improving their quality of life.

McClure arranged this in memory of her grandmother, who suffered from the condition and died in 2015. The actress said that she noticed how music, especially singing together, appeared to raise her grandmother’s mood.

The choir is made up of 18 people, all living in and around Nottingham, where McClure grew up, and they all live with a form of dementia.

Dementia covers any progressive change in someone’s thinking abilities and can manifest itself in various ways – including changes in memory, language, emotion and behaviour. The effects depend on what causes it and what parts of the brain are damaged.

We are most familiar with Alzheimer’s disease, which covers 60% of dementia sufferers, most of whom are over 65.  However, there are three other types: vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies and frontotemporal dementia.

There are more and more studies suggesting that music can help individuals with dementia live happier lives. Vicky McClure’s choir took part in one of these studies, run by Sebastian Crutch, professor in neuropsychology at the Dementia Research Centre, University College London.  The study looked how music and visual art can affect people with dementia.

During the study, they measured physical indicators, such as the heart-rate of the participants when they sang, and asked them questions afterwards to assess their own views on their mood and well-being.  Both elements of the study indicated a positive effect, including a lower level of agitation, which is common in dementia sufferers.

Both Medicine and Psychology applicants might be interested in the links between music and neurological health.  They also might be interested in the methods used to assess the wellbeing of dementia sufferers, and how medical professionals must sometimes focus on improving quality of life when it is not possible to cure a disease.

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