This is why your visit to Songs & Smiles matters.
It was a conversation with care home resident Joan* that proved to me how far the impact of Songs & Smiles went, way beyond the hour a week that we spend at each home.
Joan was part of the first ever Songs & Smiles group. She’d attended the first five sessions but had missed the next week because she was in hospital with flu - miserable, in pain, with no one to visit her. When she returned to Songs & Smiles, she told me that the thing that had made her feel happy whilst lying in her hospital bed was the thought of my then-one-year old son, Heath. She loved seeing him at the sessions and he always brought a smile to her face.
I found this incredibly moving, not just because of the potential of what Songs & Smiles could achieve but also on a personal level as a mum. My little boy had the power to improve the emotional wellbeing of a vulnerable older lady at a dark time in her life – just by showing up and having fun!
So much of the impact of Songs & Smiles goes unnoticed by the parents and guardians who attend because they only see the residents for one hour a week, during which time they’re generally in good spirits. They don’t realise that the resident playing Peekaboo with their child was crying earlier because they were so lonely. That singing songs in a group setting has improved the cognitive functions of someone living with dementia. Or that the only thing that’s motivated someone to get out of their bedroom all week is the chance of a cuddle with a baby and a chat with some other adults.
I don’t want to imply that every resident is going through a difficult time, but many of them are facing significant challenges and I want to shine a spotlight on the often-unseen impact the visits have.
Here are just a few examples that the team and I have seen first-hand:
I overheard Penny, who regularly attends our sessions, talking to her daughter about the fact that she’d missed Songs & Smiles that morning because she hadn’t felt very well. She was really sad to have missed the children, but particularly a little boy called Reggie because she’d really grown fond of him and he always cheered her up.
Staff at one care home had tears in their eyes as they watched Fred walk into the lounge at the beginning of the session with a big smile on his face, crouch down on the floor and begin laughing and joking with some three-year-olds. He looked like a happy, carefree grandfather; the reality is that Fred is going through a very turbulent time and often talks about wishing to end his life.
Mary finds verbal communication incredibly challenging. I’d only ever seen her communicate using blinks, nods and small facial movements for the first few months of Songs & Smiles. Then during one session, she began mouthing some of the words to Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. I was amazed – as were the care home staff. As the months have gone by she’s started singing more and more, which the home put down to the effect of the sessions.
Arthur was living with dementia. He didn’t remember much about what happened in his life from day to day, but he always remembered ‘the babies’ coming and said how much he enjoyed singing with them. His daughter told us it was the highlight of his week.
I saw Elsie in the care home café half an hour before Songs & Smiles started. She was crying on a carer’s shoulder, saying she didn’t know why she was there or what she was meant to be doing. The carer reminded her that the children were coming to sing and cheer her up. Elsie was beaming with joy throughout the session and commented afterwards on what a lovely time she’d had.
Margaret cried throughout her first Songs & Smiles session. The care team told me that it meant she was very happy and it was such a wonderful thing to watch her release her emotions. One of the dads who’d come with his toddler held her hand throughout, which was very touching to watch.
Some of the residents will be really engaged during a session – singing, moving, laughing. Others appear more withdrawn and might not actively participate, but they are often still receiving huge benefits. A simple smile from a resident might not seem like much to somebody who doesn’t know them well, but it could be hugely significant.
So thank you, as always, to everyone who attends our sessions. I hope that as your children grow, you can talk to them about the wonderful impact that you and they have had on many people. Hopefully it will set them on a path of kindness, empathy and compassion for the rest of their lives.
*all names have been changed for confidentiality