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Retired GP Margaret Garner, leads the musical version of Empowered Conversations. She was inspired to get involved with the training as she has always been interested in the amateur music scene. This combined with her professional capabilities, saw Margaret get involved in music therapy and from that Empowered Conversations – The Sequel was born.
To mark World Alzheimer’s Day (September 21) which is in World Alzheimer’s Month, Margaret talks to us about her belief in using music to communicate and maintain relationships with people when words can be difficult or are no longer available.
“Music shares many properties with language and we can use aspects of music to explore the way we communicate; what can go wrong and how we can adapt and find ways of addressing problems. Some of these aspects are: silence, rhythm, tempo, tone, dynamics, melody and harmony – which can reflect our everyday conversations.
“I expect many people will have seen some very impressive videos of older people with dementia who appear to ’wake up’ and become much more responsive when they are played recorded music known to be of significance to them.
“This can indeed happen but music can be used in a number of ways, perhaps less immediately obvious but nonetheless equally rewarding.
“Music is incorporated into the Empowered Conversations course to explore barriers to communication- when language is too complex or too fast it can be a barrier- we use music exercises as a metaphor to explore this. Professional or family carers can then reflect on how this may relate to a verbal conversation and how they can be more aware of these barriers.


“We want course attendees to enjoy the session but also learn from it, walking way with a knowledge and encouragement to use singing or playing or listening to music together as a way of evoking trust and reinforcing a relationship.
“It also means that people living with dementia can gain ‘structure’ from the music, and take part in creating their own music and showing their own individuality.
“Singing and playing music can take a lot of people out of their comfort zone, but hopefully not for long, the session is not designed to be a threat but a help: a different way of looking at conversation and communication and simply being with someone or a group of people.
“A group of Admiral Nurses at Tameside hospital recently did a great job of providing percussion to singing. This does not have to be a test of your musical ability – just a different way of communicating.
“We often see music now presented as a professional performance, where we are the listeners, impressed by the sound and skills of the players and the singers. We get the sense of “I could never do that”.
“But the truth is, we are wired up to make music: parents and children communicate using matching of timing, movements and tone of voice and shaping and grouping of sounds long before they use words where the meaning is understood by both parent and child.
 “I urge people to think of music as a way of life everyone can join in with, as a way of communicating and being with people. Christopher Small in his book “Musicking” writes “Music is not a thing at all but an activity, something people do.”
“Give it a go!”
If you would like to find out more about the Empowered Conversations course click the links above, email us or call 0161-212-4981