This article was written by a group of guest contributors, and the views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this article belong solely to the authors.
Music is Lifeis a research-based film thatfollows people living with dementia and Grammy Award-winning Simon Law, as they write and compose a song about the meaning of music, Music Takes You Higher. Music is everywhere at an arts-based academy of teaching and learning. Especially due to the setting of our research, where music is a medium for relationships, engagement, and life enrichment.
At Dotsa Bitove Wellness Academy the philosophy of relational caring uniquely guides the engagement with music. Relational caring recognizes the relational capacity of all human beings and emphasizes relational processes of compassion, building trust, and being fully present while being radically empathetic. Relational caring embraces the importance of knowing a person through relationships and not as a list of preferences or tasks.
For relational caring to flourish it needs to be supported by organizational structure and policies. The structure of space and managerial support where team members are treated in a relational caring way is a philosophy that permeates everything at the Dosta Bitove Wellness academy.
Photo Courtesy Music is Life Doc
Based on our research, funded by the Alzheimer Society of Canada, this film captures how music is the essence of our humanity – the soundtrack of life. This film is filled with laughter, tears, joy, dancing and singing as members of the academy openly share their experiences with music and dementia.
This film compels us to consider music beyond a therapeutic intervention, as a powerful medium for relating with people living with dementia.
We wanted to learn what it was like for individuals affiliated with the academy to experience musical engagement when guided by this relational caring philosophy. We decided that by producing a film, we could better evaluate its impact.
Academy members living with dementia, artists, staff, volunteers, formal and informal carers, and students were interviewed to describe their experiences of musical engagement. Three themes were identified in the interviews and were used to develop the film.
The theme of lyrical connecting captured how participants described connecting differently and in various ways through music (people, emotions, culture, oneself, universe, nature). The second theme we identified was Musical transformation, which is about becoming with others, flourishing with music, and being free to become. The third theme, Music is Relational Being, is about music being the essence of humanity and how life emerges through music.
We conducted an online pilot survey to evaluate the impact of the film. Participants included educators, family members of persons living with dementia, a musician working in day programs, a dance movement psychotherapist, RNs and students.
Photo Courtesy Music Is Life Doc
The findings from this survey indicate that Music Is Life reflects compassionate relational caring and shows the transformative power of music to connect, enrich and enhance relationships and challenge stigma. One survey participant said, “After 30 years of work and more in the field this film is a great testament to the best practices in relational caring.”
Others regarded the film as a “Lovely medium to help break down the stigma associated with dementia” and that it “Reiterated the importance and necessity of seeing patients as people. It also highlighted how music can connect people, and that people may have many different ways to express themselves when language or other communication is difficult.”
The survey results also demonstrated how the film provides hope, joy and illuminates the dignity of humanity. The film was described as a “beautiful, powerful and inspiring testament to the dignity and full humanity of persons living with dementia.”
“The documentary highlighted the joy and simplicity of being together; having music create common ground (acting as the "great equalizer", as it was said) to witness one another,” said another survey participant.
After seeing individuals living with dementia in this manner, their humanity cannot go overlooked and consequently, the viewers are inspired to take action. After watching the film a participant felt motivated, “ to stay open to them, knowing they are ‘still there’ and worthy of dignity and respect.”
While there are many challenges with dementia, Music is Life shows how through musical engagement - when focused on relationships - everyone can thrive.
Often, films regarding dementia focus on the negative aspects it brings forth. Music is Life, however, presents an “overwhelming feeling of joy.” This film “Will change the way you think about people with dementia and the fundamental nature of music,” said one of our survey participants.
Findings from our survey suggest that Music Is Life is a powerful catalyst for culture change and is part of a broader movement where the arts are being used for social justice.
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This article was created with contributions from Christine Jonas-Simpson, Joseph Church, Sherry Dupuis, Pia Kontos, Gail Mitchell.