Painting to music is a new beginning for people with dementia at Gwynedd care home
A MUSICIAN in residence at a care organization showed how a combination of music and art can enable people with dementia to make a fresh start.
Nia Davies Williams, who works for Pendine Park care organization, loved how her music can change residents’ moods, trigger their creative juices, harness latent memories and spark fantasies.
She says the type of music she plays affects the way people with dementia paint and how they paint it.
Mother of three, Nia, a talented harpist, pianist and composer, works at the Bryn Seiont Care Home in Caernarfon and also works in Pendine Park’s seven other care homes in Wrexham during normal hours.
She stepped into the limelight while working at Pendine Park and received a gold award at the Welsh Care Oscars at Cardiff City Hall in 2018.
She was the winner of the Sir Bryn Terfel Foundation’s Wales Care Award for the Advancement of the Arts in Social Welfare.
Nia was nominated by colleagues to bring “light and joy” into the lives of older people with dementia who can no longer communicate.
She is widely recognized as the leading authority on the use of music in dementia care, and an article she penned on the subject will soon be published in a prestigious, internationally read Journal of Dementia Care.
After years of experiencing first-hand how her music inspired the residents of the home to produce colorful, fascinating, and expressive works of art, she said she thought long and hard about writing at length about the importance of music in dementia care.
Bryn Seiont Newydd’s musician at the Nia Davies Williams residence. Image: Mandy Jones
As the Journal goes online, it will be read by her colleagues across the UK and around the world.
She hopes to publish an insightful book on her pioneering work in Pendine Park.
Nia was the first female dormitory musician to be appointed by a Welsh nursing home when she was recruited by Pendine Park.
She said, “It wouldn’t be true to say that our live music sessions are healing or have medical connotations anyway, but we are certainly pushing the boundaries of leisure and lifestyle enrichment.
“So many residents enjoy combining music with art sessions. It can help relax participants and inspire them to pick up a brush or colored pencil to create spontaneous works of art. Sometimes the results are personal to you, sometimes they are more general. ”
“Melodic music that is played especially on the harp is reflected in broad lines or spirals in green and blue. Freestanding or staccato music is often depicted in a dotted or blunt style and in bold colors such as red, orange, dark blue, and black. Loud music would encourage these stronger colors too, with soft music encouraging the use of softer colors. ”
Before the pandemic hit groups of local school children, music groups or families were invited to attend the sessions to further stimulate the artistic process.
Nia said: “These sessions can turn out to be doubly fruitful as the children develop artistic ideas that can be picked up by residents or surprisingly reinterpreted by them. Seeing young and old work together is a reward.
“Of course, given the current strict COVID social distancing rules and the necessary restrictions, we cannot currently interact with school groups in this way, but hopefully we can resume community inclusive sessions in the future when it is safe to do so.
“We’re fortunate that the joy of live music hasn’t been taken away and has definitely helped alleviate some of the feelings of isolation that residents may have experienced.
“Unfortunately, many other nursing homes in the UK that rely solely on freelance workers were unable to continue such sessions or had to do them on videoconferencing sites. However, experience has shown that people with dementia are not as free to use screen technology in the same way. Their attention tends to drift and they can lose interest. ”
It is Nia’s ultimate goal to educate more dementia care professionals about the benefits of using music as a therapeutic tool. She said the article was a first step in her mission to educate others in the field.
She added, “The article specifically focuses on the benefits of combining music with art sessions, and how integrating the two can produce amazing results. But I am also working on the benefits of using music therapy in general to enrich the lives of those living with dementia. I hope that my book will address this in more detail and provide a useful guide on how to successfully introduce music and art sessions to people with dementia.
“Ultimately, I would like to see musicians in dormitories who, of course, are employed in nursing homes across the country. I was very fortunate to be accepted here because the owners of Pendine Park had such a vision and were ready to invest in a project that they knew had the potential to be successful. ”
Company owners Mario Kreft MBE and his wife Gill both have a passion for the arts and named Nia after the success of hiring Sarah Edwards as artist in residence more than 25 years ago.
Mario said, “Music and art have always been deeply embedded in the Pendine Park ethos. Gill and I embrace art and culture in all its forms and have long recognized the importance of enriching the lives of our residents and employees.
“Pendine also supports around 30 arts organizations across Wales and community activities through the Pendine Arts and Community Trust. We will continue to do this when we get out of Covid.
“We are very excited that Nia is doing so much to bring the benefits of integrating music and arts activities into daily life in our care homes to the broader sectors of the care sector.
“We’re also excited to continue supporting Nia in her musical activities outside of work.”