Wednesday 23rd October

Community Engagement - Flourish: Dementia Programme

For people with dementia, music can be a useful tool to help them connect with others and reduce social isolation.

Flourish, a new initiative by the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra and Dementia Canterbury, aims to do just that. Starting from the end of October, it will be bringing live and interactive music to people with dementia over the course of several weeks, culminating in a Christmas gathering with CSO musicians and all the participants, their carers and families.

CSO Head of Community Engagement Cathy Irons said she was inspired by seeing the Christchurch Art Gallery’s art programme with Dementia Canterbury and wanted to create a similar platform with music.

“Music is something that people recognise and remember,” she said. “We wanted to provide a platform where not only can people hear music but also interact with it.”

The Flourish programme will have several sessions, each with a demonstration of a different instrument and a focus on various memorable and well-known excerpts of music, such as The Lark Ascending or, for the Christmas feel, Sleigh Ride, followed by interactive activities like learning to play a drum fugue and reading musical notation.

Dementia Canterbury’s Kim Slack said music can help lessen any distress as well as promote social interactivity and connection. “Music and emotions are linked in a powerful way,” she said. “People respond to music from a very early age, before words and language are developed, and this continues even towards the end of our lives, when verbal abilities may be lost. Music accesses different parts of the brain from language so it can be used to communicate or engage with someone who has been diagnosed with dementia, even if they no longer speak or respond.”

‘Dementia’ is a term used for many brain degenerative conditions that affect memory, language, problem solving, thinking, behaviour, and other brain functions. As the condition progresses, people develop difficulties with conversation and communication, making it harder for them to express themselves and understand others, which is very frustrating for them, Slack explained.

CSO musicians have worked very closely with Dementia Canterbury in planning the programme and undertaken specific education so that they are prepared when it came to communicating and working with people with dementia. Some of the things they learned included using clear, simple, concrete language, showing rather than telling where possible, wearing name badges to make themselves more easily identifiable, and speaking at a slower pace to give people time to absorb what is being said.

The programme is also an opportunity for people with dementia and their carers to socialise with one another and reduce social isolation. “When people are connected with others in a normalised environment, it supports brain health.”

 “We hope we can continue our partnership with the CSO to enable people living with dementia access to wonderful musical resources that will stimulate memory and emotions to enjoy a better quality of life,” said Slack.

Flourish will take place in the Ron Ball Studio the orchestra’s new rehearsal space in the CSO Centre.


The CSO's Community Engagement Programme is supported by our Major Community Engagement Partner, Beca.