Hampstead musician’s songs help dementia patients reconnect with world in breakthrough experiment

Beatie Wolfe on Hampstead Heath. Picture: Stu Nicholls

Beatie Wolfe on Hampstead Heath. Picture: Stu Nicholls - Credit: Archant

A singer-songwriter has helped dementia patients reconnect with the world as part of a groundbreaking experiment into the powerful effect music can have on sufferers’ lives.

A national study conducted by Hampstead musician Beatie Wolfe, 27, and a team of researchers has shown that music totally unconnected with patients’ lives can reanimate people with dementia.

Miss Wolfe, of Parliament Hill, played her songs to patients at care homes across the UK over a period of three months, and marvelled at how previously inert sufferers sang and danced to her music.

She said: “It is one of the best feelings because it is such a genuine reaction and not something you can fake.

“I had one woman singing along throughout one of my performances, which I thought was quite normal – and then I found out that she hadn’t spoken in seven months. It just blows me away.”

For the study, Miss Wolfe performed a 30-minute set of her original songs which had never been heard before by the patients at Priory Group care homes. The sufferers were monitored throughout the performance.

Over the next three months, the same songs were played to patients on an MP3 player while researchers observed their reactions. Some 40 patients took part in the study.

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The breakthrough result moved Miss Wolfe to tears on several occasions. Patients were transformed back to their old selves and were able to engage with the world once again.

She said one of the most moving moments came as she watched a care home patient with advanced dementia, known as David, rise up from a near-sleep state in his chair to dance to one of her songs.

Before the study, his family had all but given up on being able to connect with him ever again.

Miss Wolfe wanted to explore the impact music could have on dementia sufferers after playing for her American grandmother, who was diagnosed with early-onset dementia five years ago.

She then joined forces with market research firm 20:20 Research, marketing, research and design team Spirit of Creation, and Priory Group care homes to conduct a quantifiable study into the effect of music on sufferers.

Their findings were published for the first time earlier this month.

Miss Wolfe said: “It’s so magical, there’s nothing more magical.”

She added: “Their reactions are just incredible. To provide so many family members and loved ones who think these people are completely gone, with something that is able to bring them back to life, is incredibly moving.”

The findings have been made publicly available to allow researchers to build upon the work.