A crescendo of noise emanated from the packed room on a gloomy Monday night earlier this month. It was more than noise, it was pure unadulterated joy.
The first installment of Brendan Grace's documentary series was on air and we had invited the other stars of the show, the Forget Me Nots choir, to RTÉ to sing with Sandy Kelly on Claire Byrne Live. Before the show, they sat in a room together watching the Brendan Grace programme as it was broadcast on television.
I had worried about inviting in a group of mainly elderly people, some with dementia. Was it too much to ask of them to rehearse their song, wait around and then perform so late in the evening? My misgivings were completely unfounded. As they watched Brendan’s show, they greeted every new scene with cheers. Every time one of their own group appeared on screen, they whooped uproariously - it was infectious.
After their own beautiful performance on Claire Byrne Live, we all sang together in the TV studio as the crew attempted to pack up the set around us and the clock ticked on towards midnight. The experience of that night encapsulated the profound impact of Brendan Grace’s great service in changing how we see dementia. Anyone who has seen the documentary series knows how important music, dance, community and joy are to people who have dementia, and to those who care for them.
We heard from Professor Tim Lynch about the science behind the joy of listening to music for those with dementia, how the memories associated with melody and song survive when almost all else is lost. Brendan Grace has also taught us about community and dementia, and how coming together in the choir meant so much to both the dementia patients and their carers. There are plenty of people in Ireland who have experience of dementia, but who don’t have access to a choir or even day care services.
The documentary series powerfully showed the life-enhancing benefits of both, and will hopefully serve to inspire health professionals and community groups to seize the initiative shown by the people behind the Forget Me Nots. This week, we will see Brendan’s efforts to put together a show in the Olympia featuring the Forget me Nots choir come to fruition.
Sadly, he wasn’t there to see it, but his family should take great comfort in the knowledge that his final act has brought a much-needed awareness of what dementia patients and their families need, and of how much they still have to give. We’ll all be watching Brendan Grace: Thanks for the Memories on Monday night, and afterwards, we’ll hear more about it from Brendan’s great friends Ronan Collins and Fr Brian D’Arcy.
I hope you can join us for Claire Byrne Live on RTE One television, Monday at 10.35pm.