Reporter 416, 9 March 1998

Nurse and patients sing away the blues

Mature nursing student Clive Spendlove has the remark of a colleague to thank for the fact that he can now combine his three main interests – health, people and music.

When he was working as an administrative assistant at St James’ University Hospital a psychiatric nurse confided to Clive that music helped him cope with a life-threatening disease. The comment struck a chord.

Clive had always been musical, and eventually – after taking singing lessons – he gave up his hospital day job to study at Leeds College of Music. But he didn’t abandon health issues. After qualifying, he began lecturing at the College and leading musical activity sessions for people with mental health problems. He also took a counselling course.

Today Clive is halfway through training to be a mental health nurse at the University – and his musical talents are invaluable.

His first student nurse placement at a hospital brought him into contact with Mary, a woman with advanced Alzheimer’s disease. Clive found that he could use music to communicate with Mary, despite the fact that she suffered from blindness and deafness as well as Alzheimer’s.

“I soon noticed that she was very vocal in speech and song, both of which were often highly rhythmical,” he says.

“She seemed far more able to sing real words than say them. Her sung lyrics were more often in the correct order than the words in her spoken phrases, and their pronunciation was much clearer.”

During his time on the ward, Clive would sing with Mary and they would play together with rhythms, either using instruments or by clapping, finger clicking and so on. It was a moving and rewarding experience.

Clive, 41, says: “It was exciting to see that music appears to help preserve, or maybe access, what remains of normal patterns of verbal communication and vocabulary. Other nurses were positive in their comments.”

“A lot of people don’t have verbal communication skills,” he points out. “Anyone in health care can benefit from being involved, and encouraging others to be involved, in solo or group musical activities. All I’m trying to do is meet people’s needs, whatever they might be, using whatever skills I’ve got.”

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