Radio and TV rekindle dementia patients' memories

Old football match reports and archive soundtracks from children's TV and newsreels are being used to help trigger memories among the 90,000 Scots with dementia as part of a major Radio Scotland project.

Radio Recall presenter Sally Magnusson, her sisters Anna and Margaret, and their mother Mamie, who died from dementia in 2012
Radio Recall presenter Sally Magnusson, her sisters Anna and Margaret, and their mother Mamie, who died from dementia in 2012

In Radio Recall, broadcaster Sally Magnusson – who wrote about her mother Mamie’s struggle with dementia in her moving and inspirational 2014 book Where Memories Go – finds out how sounds from the past can bring it back to life.

In the first episode – to be broadcast on Tuesday – she meets retired policeman Henry Rankin, 63, who was diagnosed with vascular dementia in 2010, at his East Renfrewshire home. Music from the 1950s children’s TV show Champion The Wonder Horse and newsreels of the Great Train Robbery brought back a stream of poignant memories.

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A few bars of A Whiter Shade Of Pale by Procul Harum, which was played as the first dance at his wedding in 1977, also brought back memories of a Scotland vs England football match on the same day.

Rankin, who is chairman of the Scottish Dementia Working Group, said: “It was a lot of fun to be honest and brought lots of things back. Champion The Wonder Horse was the first TV show I ever watched. My dad worked two jobs to get us that TV.

“I still have a life with my dementia. I think people think we have something wrong with us but most of the time the idea of people who can’t speak properly is right in the end-stage.”

His wife Anne said music has helped the family to connect with him, as some of his memories have started to fade.

She said: “We know we can’t change everything for Henry but by doing things like this maybe we can make it better for other people.”

Magnusson founded the charity Playlist for Life after discovering how music helped her family to reconnect with her mother Mamie before her death from dementia in 2012.

She said: “The songs she had been singing all her life became the one thing we could use to connect with her. At the very end of her life, when she couldn’t really speak any more, she could reach her memories through music. It is a uniquely powerful tool.

“What I saw with my mother was she started to become someone who didn’t have a place in society any longer and it was so desperately hurtful and lonely. I think what we need to do is to try to understand it better.”

Launching to coincide with the start of Scottish Dementia Awareness Week tomorrow, Memories And Conversations includes a five-week-long schedule of programmes on BBC Radio Scotland and also a week of special reports on Reporting Scotland.