Interview with Dementia Together and B Sharp Participants:
Recorded July 2023.
B Sharp – An Arts Engagement Program
Jennifer E. Cross, India Luxton, Deana Davalos
The number of people living with dementia worldwide is currently estimated at 47 million and is projected to increase to 75 million by 2030. By 2050, dementia cases are estimated to almost triple.
Dementia reinforces the interdependence of human life and highlights the fact that no one can flourish in isolation. A healthy community is an inclusive community. Northern Colorado is committed to learning how to engage and create meaningful interactions for those living with dementia. Creating a community where we are all included, where we all experience a sense of belonging, and where we can all actively participate is critical to creating a place where all people can thrive. The B Sharp program is an example of a community effort that required collaboration, communication, and a commitment to creating a dementia-friendly community.
About the B Sharp Dementia Research Program
B Sharp was launched in 2015 and provided 30 people with dementia and their primary caregiver the opportunity to attend five Fort Collins Symphony Masterworks concerts. Pairs were given season tickets, invited to a pre-concert and post-concert reception, and were able to meaningfully interact with others. The study explored a number of factors, including the impact of the music on the cognitive ability of participants with dementia, the social connections between the caregiver and person with dementia, and the degree to which study participants feel supported by the community.
This study was unique as most music therapy programs operate in an isolated social setting. In this program, participants were given season, tickets, enjoyed public music, attended receptions with fellow community members, and participated in a “normal” social setting.
Attending dementia-friendly community events like B sharp helped caregivers feel connected to their loved one, other caregivers, and enjoy a night out.
In order to assess the impact of participation on memory, mood, and attention, participant with dementia were gien one of two cognitive tests before and after concerts, as well as the Geriatric Depression Scale and a mood assessment. The first cognitive test, called RBANS, is a neuropsychological test that assesses current cognitive functioning, improvement, and/or decline. The second, Alzheimer’s Quick Test, measures perception speed and overall cognitive speed. To assess social connection of caregivers, researchers administered surveys, performed social network mapping, and conducted post-concert phone calls, in-depth interviews, and focus groups.
The Cognitive function (mood, memory, and attention) of participants improved.
Dementia Caregivers identified a number of positive changes in their loved ones after participating in the program; including improved alertness, engagement, and mood in comparison with other activities done together.
Last season, there was a nearly significant correlation (R=.50, p=.058) between the change in the RBANS score and attendance. This suggests that overall cognition IMPROVED over the course of the 9-month B Sharp intervention. This season, those who completed RBANs in both February and May also demonstrated an INCREASE in index scores across time. Across tests, participants also showed and increased mood after attending the concert. Future analyses will seek to investigate whether increases in mood also translates to higher accuracy and faster completion rate on tasks.
Attending the concert was a shared activity that allowed caregivers to meaningfully connect with their loved one.
As people lose heir memory, they lose their ability to relate to people and communicate in meaningful ways. Through attending the B Sharp concerts, caregivers were able to feel connected to their loved one in a familiar and meaningful way, allowing them to remember the person they fell in love with and reconnect to past memories and experiences. Additionally, the concerts resurfaced old memories and allowed new memories to be formed. The concerts became a point of conversation prior to attendance, immediately after, and for some, continued to be so. Many participants remarked that they turned the concert into a “date night.” It was something to look forward to and it gave both caregiver and the person with dementia an opportunity to get dressed up and socialize with the broader Fort Collins Community.
There is very little that we can do together, so this is just very nice. In a sense, it gives dignity to both of us or to all of us. To me, it’s a nice way of having something to do together when you feel like you’ve lost all the things you used to be able to do together.
Caregivers were able to form new connections with other caregivers.
The diagnosis of dementia changes both the caregiver’s relationship with their loved one, as well as their relationships with friends, colleagues, and family. s one of the program components consisted of a pre- and post-concert reception, caregivers and their loved ones were able to interact in a “normal” social setting and develop new social connections. Through participating in the program, caregivers were able to interact socially with others in a similar position and share experiences. Additionally, the normalcy of the reception room generated different kinds of conversations than what typically take place in support groups. Rather than “focusing on our problems,” as one caregiver put it, caregivers were able to discuss personal interests, contemporary events, or other community events.
Across interviews, caregivers remarked that attending the reception helped reduce feelings of social isolation and increased their feelings of community connectedness.
It gives us all a night to dress up and play normal adult. There’s a lot of child-parenting going on, and then when you’ve got to get your clothes on and show up and you get to mingle with other adults. It feels normal again.
Caregivers appreciate the chance to be in the moment.
Those with dementia are commonly supported by informal caregivers such as spouses, other family members, friends, or neighbors. Caring for an individual with dementia is often associated with physical, psychological, emotional, financial, and social burdens. However, attending community based interventions can reduce feelings of social isolation and provide caregivers with an opportunity for respite. Across interviews, participants remarked that attending the concert with their loved one allowed them to take a break from their caregiver role and enjoy the moment. For caregivers, the opportunity to enjoy the music with their loved one without worrying about the future was welcome.
I can get lost in the moment. I can just get lost in it, and think that this really good for us caregivers is to be able to relax and to enjoy. We do know it’s a short time, but we’re going to enjoy it while we’ve got it.
Thank you to the donors who support the B Sharp program and research:
Fort Collins Symphony
International Neuroscience Network Foundation
and Individual Community Members
Fort Collins Museum of Art
Alzheimer’s Association, Colorado Chapter
Dementia-Friendly Communities of Northern Colorado
Fort Collins Symphony
Colorado State University
Larimer County, Office On Aging
For Inquiries about the research:
Please contact Jeni Cross, PhD, Associate Professor of Sociology, Colorado State University