The most common cause of dementia, Alzheimer's is a general term for memory loss and loss of other cognitive abilities serious enough to interfere with someone's daily life.
While the greatest known risk factor in getting Alzheimer’s is increasing age – the majority of people with Alzheimer's are 65 and older – it can affect younger people.
A person with Alzheimer's can live as long as 20 years, depending on various factors.
Alzheimer's disease currently has no cure, but there are various treatments which can slow its progress and reduce cognitive and functional decline.
And there are groups and organisations like Alzheimer Scotland which try to make the lives of people affected by the disease as worthwhile and rewarding as possible, through various stimulating activities.
One of those activities making a real difference to people in Falkirk is the Musical Memories initiative – a monthly singing group for people living with dementia and family carers which usually takes place at St Xaviers Church Hall in Hope Street.
Alzheimer Scotland’s Falkirk dementia advisor Justine Nicolson, who facilitates the singing groupd, was delighted to receive funding recently to enable her to purchase a projector and cover fees for a music leader.
Justine said: “The purchase of a projector will allow us to have lyrics projected onto the wall instead of using songbooks, which, in the current climate of COVID-19, will allow us to minimise the sharing of materials.
“The musical memories group has been in existence for over six years now and continues to be a popular and well attended group. Unfortunately, we are currently like many other community groups are offering this group online while the Omicron threat is high.
“Singing has lots of benefits for people with dementia as it helps improve cognition as it builds on preserved memory for songs and music. It also improves physical abilities using muscles and improving lung capacity.
"It also often leads to other physical movement such as clapping, toe tapping. It also helps the person with dementia to improve their communication skills by articulating words through song and can revive memories of the past.
"A lot of family carers tell us that after attending the singing group people come away feeling uplifted and happy.”
One singing group member stated: “The whole thing works perfectly – the teas and biscuits as people arrive gives everyone a chance to catch up with each other. It is lovely to see everyone and to share, encourage, and enjoy the enthusiasm the songs bring to each person. I enjoy having a theme and that we participate in song choices. The group is also very flexible so we occasional indulge in organ playing and bell ringing.”
As well as Musical Memories, Alzheimer Scotland runs a variety of different groups for people living with dementia, and their family and friends – everything from weekly dementia cafés at Central Perk in Falkirk and the Richmond Park Hotel in Bo’ness, to weekly walking groups.
They also run a gardening club, a physical activity group in partnership with Westquarter and Redding Cricket Club and a “That Friday Feeling” – a fun group that uses
quizzes to reminiscence on a variety of topics – and Brain Gym, which uses a mix of physical and mental activities to stimulate, orientate and engage participants in meaningful conversations and reminiscence.
Justine said: “We love to collaborate with other organisations to widen out our community connections programme, so people think they have a training programme, skills and talents which our members would benefit from we would love to hear from them.
“During lockdown we have had informative and interactive sessions delivered by Historic Environment Scotland, who did workshops for us focusing on different aspects of everyday life for royalty living at Stirling Castle.
"Archaeology Scotland received an Archaeological Achievement Award for the sessions which they delivered to our group members. Their education officer Jane
Miller presented a fascinating talk on local archaeological excavations, showing us artefacts that were found, pictures of old maps and some insight into what life was like for our ancestors.
“We also got to engage in a sensory activity trying to replicate an archaeological find using play do.”
One of the participants said: “Mum and I would like to say a very big thank you to Jane for the excellent sessions she did with our wee group. They were so engaging and informative, and it was such a pleasure taking part in the interactive activities.
"We are looking forward to future sessions.”
Alzheimer Scotland’s online dementia café had input last year from a range of high-profile guests, including Janice Forsyth and Andy Scott, and talks from hobbyists on bees, taxidermy, mindfulness, among many other subjects.
Local professionals from social work, the health service, Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and Trading Standards Scotland did presentations on their services and help they can provide.
Justine said: “COVID-19 has been extremely difficult for the community we support, and we hope after the Omicron variant has settled down, we will be able to resume our face-to-face groups again."
If anyone is interested in any of the Alzheimer Scotland groups they can call Justine on (01324) 564278 or e-mail her on jn[email protected] or call the main office on (01324) 559480.