Did you watch BBC One’s Our Dementia Choir earlier this month?
If so, then you may be familiar with Bilsthorpe dad and star-of-the-show Mick Bonser, 52, a former IT worker and miner who lives with Alzheimer’s disease.
The show, which aired for two weeks earlier this month, looked to examine the “positive impact” music can have on people living with the illness.
It saw more than a dozen Nottinghamshire Dementia patients come together to perform songs such as ‘In My Life’ by The Beatles and ‘Stand By Me’ by Ben E King at Nottingham’s Theatre Royal - songs synonymous with memory and family.
Mick, who describes himself as a “positive person”, took part in the BBC programme with an open mind and got stuck in immediately - taking part in solo performances and showing that music can have a positive effect on the mind of people with the illness.
He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in January 2018 after two serious seizures forced him to “immediately lose his memory”.
The father-of-one, who worked as a rescue worker at Bilsthorpe Colliery during the disaster in 1993, slowly started to forget simple tasks such as “how to tell time on a 24-hour clock” - throwing a curve-ball into his life, as well that of his wife Karen and daughter Hannah.
Karen, who works as a business leader for the Diverse Academies Trust, said: “It was just less than two years ago Mick had two seizures and that caused him to immediately lose his memory.
“We were on holiday in Cornwall when he had the first one and then a week later he had the other and was rushed to King’s Mill Hospital.
“Poor Hannah our daughter had to call 999 after finding him on the second seizure, and she has been amazing coping with everything since - becoming a carer herself.
“He had a lot of tests because they originally thought it was just epilepsy, but he was after more scans he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in January 2018, aged just 51.
“He’s quite a positive person and he’s still quite physically fit, and I think it’s hard for us watching him change - it’s like having bereavement after bereavement.
“When you start to see him forgetting how to do things it’s quite sad, such as remembering how to tell time on a 24-hour clock, but his memory from the past is still really good.
“We’ve had hiccups recently where Mick went to bed and forgot I was coming home so he locked me out of the house.
“He often wakes up in the middle of the night having episodes where he wants to find something random like his slippers, but when he wakes up in the morning he can’t remember any of it.
“I think that’s the difficult part, because it’s a bit like a 24-hour job looking after him and it takes its toll on the family, but we get really good support from caring organisations and the hospitals and Mick likes to remain positive about everything.”
Vicky McClure’s Our Dementia Choir
Under the care of Newark Hospital the family were referred to the BBC and the University of Nottingham for the new Dementia Choir programme.
The host, Line of Duty actress Vicky McClure, had experience of Dementia in her family, however she saw a “sparkle in their eye” when music was played - setting up the programme to test what impact a choir could have on Dementia patients.
The programme conducted research into all choir members by using sensors, which measured the brain activity while singing and listening to music - as part of a research project being undertaken by the university.
Now, after the programme has come to an end, the choir members and their families have continued to meet and want to raise funds to help it continue “for all future generations”.
Karen said: “The Dementia Choir was fantastic, it was a really good way to meet people in the same situation as us and understand the illness.
“Vicky was fantastic with everyone and you could tell she really cares - she was the glue that held it together.
“Since getting involved particularly in the research side I’ve started to learn so much about the illness, I’ve learned that there are so many different types of dementia and you can start to see characteristics in people and their mannerisms. “I think the choir has been so important for Mick because when he’s there he is very lively, and the research done with the Universtiy of Nottingham shows that music does have an amazing power on people with Dementia.
“That’s why I think it needs to continue. We’ve still been going every week since we finished recording last week and we’re looking to start fundraisers to keep it going for as long as possible.
“Now that the BBC isn’t funding it, we have to pay for taxis for Mick to get to rehearsals because he’s not allowed to drive anymore and this can be expensive.
“We also think it’s such an important way to bring people out of their shell and continue the choir for as many generations as we can.”
Mick added: “I’m the sort of person where, when I’ve got something in front of me, I’ll just get on with it and get it done.
“If there’s anything negative in my life, such as the Alzheimer’s, I try to push it to one side and not think of the negatives.
“The Dementia Choir was a lot of fun and as soon as it started I got stuck in - life is too short to not get involved.
“The most important song we did for me was Stand By Me, because I think it really represents and tells the story of what’s going on and it’s a really important song for me and Karen.”
The Dementia Choir are looking for donations to help it continue into the future, hoping to raise £6,000 to provide a year’s worth of singing lessons at the University of Nottingham.
You can donate to their fundraiser by visiting the JustGiving page at justgiving.com/fundraising/music-and-memory-dementia-choir.