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Watch: Musical Memories group is lifeline for Aberdeen dementia sufferers

Muriel Knox and Jean Dodds are calling on more people to get involved with Musical Memories, held at Aberdeen Art Gallery.


Picture by Paul Glendell.
Muriel Knox and Jean Dodds are calling on more people to get involved with Musical Memories, held at Aberdeen Art Gallery. Picture by Paul Glendell.

To see Muriel Knox and Jean Dodds together, is to recognise two women who understand each other completely.

Both retired, the pair have led incredibly busy lives; Muriel, was an ordained minister and former chaplain at Royal Cornhill Hospital. Jean meanwhile, was head teacher at Ashley Road School in Aberdeen’s west end.

Muriel Knox and Jean Dodds met at Musical Memories Aberdeen.

We meet in Jean’s comfortable home, where the two friends are ready and waiting at the kitchen table.

Having spent their respective careers helping other people, the pair have not sat back in retirement.

United by circumstance, they can be found at Aberdeen Art Gallery every second Friday of each month.

Just follow the uplifting sound of song, for Jean and Muriel help run Musical Memories Aberdeen, alongside fellow volunteer Anne Cargill.

The group was previously held at Aberdeen Resource Centre for Alzheimer Scotland, but is now standing on its own two feet.

Pure joy can be witnessed, not just in the smiles of Jean and Muriel as they sing the songs of yesteryear, but in the eyes of those who participate.

It is the spark of recognition mid verse, the glimmer of a memory with each resounding note.

And for those who have been diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s, that really can mean everything.

Jean joined the group alongside her late husband, and likes to support fellow members.

Jean and Muriel are now determined to get as many people along as possible, for they know only too well what a big difference such a group can make.

Research has confirmed the positive effect of music therapy on those living with dementia, from behaviour to communication.

Musical memories can even be preserved in Alzheimer’s disease, because key brain areas linked to musical memory are relatively undamaged by the condition.

Muriel and Jean told us more.

The power of music

“It all started when I was still the chaplain at Cornhill; it was a wonderful job,” says Muriel.

“I was taking a service at Crosby House, which was a specialist centre for dementia in those days.

“There was a gentleman there, and the nurses couldn’t get any sort of response from him at all.

Muriel Knox previously worked as a hospital chaplain at Royal Cornhill Hospital.

“I started the service, we always sang. All of a sudden, there was the sound of this beautiful tenor voice.

“The gentleman sang all the way through, every hymn was the same.

“He came alive because of the music; I was greeting and the nurses were greeting.

“I knew then that this is what I wanted to do when I retired.”

Giving back

Muriel stayed true to her word, and crossed paths with Jean who attended the sessions with her late husband, Keith.

“The first time we came to Musical Memories, I wept buckets,” recalls Jean.

“Keith was an accountant. We knew something was wrong, because after he retired he became aware he couldn’t count any more.

“He was counting money from a collection box, and he couldn’t tell me how many 50 pence pieces there were.

Muriel Knox and Jean Dodds have become good friends thanks to Musical Memories Aberdeen.

“After the diagnosis, we went along to the group. I think it was the words to the songs that set me off, like Danny Boy.

“It was also the first time when I was referred to as Keith’s carer; that was difficult.

“We both got a lot out of the sessions though.”

Although Keith passed away three years ago, Jean has continued to volunteer with the group.

“I was familiar with PowerPoints and projectors from school assemblies, so I knew how to put the words for all the songs on to the screen,” says Jean.

“When the funding ran out for the group, it was up to volunteers as to whether we carried on. So I have been doing it ever since.

“It is partly my way of giving something back to the people who helped me.

The group in action at Aberdeen Art Gallery.

“It’s also the social interaction and doing something together, an experience for the carer and the cared for.

“We’ve found that carers continue to come after their partner has gone, because they can receive so much support here.”

Support available

Having helped found the group, Muriel’s connection to is has since become deeper.

“My husband, Jim, was diagnosed last year,” said Muriel.

“Things went downhill very quickly, to the extent of receiving respite care.

“He insisted I continue to go along to Musical Memories, I am a different person when I am there.

“I am not a wife, I am a volunteer.

“I enjoy it so much and we have a great selection of songs that people can recognise.

“Songs from all the musicals, Tom Jones, Puppet on a String or My Old Man’s a Dustman.”

Muriel is hopeful that more people may join the group.

Muriel and fellow volunteers have also made sure the group has changed with the times.

“When it was first started around 12 years ago in comparison to now, it’s obviously a completely different group of people.

“We make sure the songs we choose remain relevant to them.

“We would absolutely love more people to come along to the group, we’re here to help.”

Musical Memories Aberdeen takes place at Aberdeen Art Gallery, every second Friday of the month.

For more information visit www.alzscot.org or phone 01224 644077.

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