June’s Story – Music Therapy and Dementia

Music therapy meant June was no longer defined by her Dementia, but by everything that made her the person that she used to be…

June had an eventful and colorful life. An evacuee during the war having to flee her home in London, she went on to become a professional cabaret singer and model in her 20’s. A keen dancer , June studied Flamenco dancing and this love for dance lasted for 27 years; June would take to the stage, castanets in hand and dance the fandango with passion.

In Spring of 2015, June’s life was hit with a bombshell; she began showing signs of Dementia. The effects of the illness slowed all aspects of her life. She heard music everywhere; on the bus, in the doctors surgery, day and night which became distressing. This was coupled with constant falls which led her to being admitted into a rehab centre for three months. By now she needed daily care and was move to a residential home in Yorkshire to be near her family in 2016.

June would often wander about the home and come and sit in the lounge, carrying her bag, which had contained her beloved castanets. Staff would ask her to play and June would claim that she was unable and that she was “no good” anymore.

During a spontaneous music therapy session in the lounge, June took a seat and began untying the strings of her castanets, and re-tying them – the very instruments she once used to play with flair.  She declined the opportunity to play when staff asked her, but the Nordoff Robbins music therapist Alison spotted June and moved over to her, playing a lively Spanish melody on her flute.

At first June sat quietly, but as Alison continued to improvise with her, June soon found a flow and started playing in time. As the music developed with a dance-like feel, June became bold, confident and completely immersed in the moment, just as she had all those years ago. The energy and drama was clear to see and as the music came to climatic close, June was applauded and cheered.

Later, as June walked to lunch, she remarked to Alison, “I played better today – something happened and I could just play”.

In that moment music therapy had given June an opportunity to step back into the ‘present’, connecting her with her past experiences and identity – In that session June was no longer defined by her Dementia, but by everything that made her the person that she used to be. 

A Nordoff Robbins music therapy session at a memory clinic in London.