Research and Practice in Adult Literacy – a friendly group


J, Learning for the Fourth Age

J lives at home near her daughter who works full time. J has MS and early signs of dementia. J was a musician, piano player and teacher of music. On assessment J’s daughter attended and was able to prompt J to tell me all about her career in music. At home, she has all her scores and two pianos – upright and baby grand.

J was prompted by her daughter who encouraged her to play some pieces for me. She is a very accomplished musician but J’s daughter said that unless prompted she no longer plays or remembers to play and is often bored and listless at home. She is alone in the day and so the volunteer found would need to come and encourage J to play, accompany her and ask for tips and advice to give J the sense of being at work and useful.

This was a really specific challenge. Not only did the volunteer need to be an accomplished musician, but also to understand the health issues, the possible effects on J and the challenges they could present. It took us a while until a suitable volunteer was placed – a professional musician, teacher of violin but also learning piano herself. She has an interest in the effect of music on the brain, the therapeutic benefits of playing or listening to music and personal experience of caring for an older relative. She has developed a good relationship with the family and with J and they are able to play together and to challenge each other with new pieces and old favourites.

The family have now seen J playing and enjoying her music again and they always have something to listen to and to ask her about. J seems to respond very positively to the sessions now – although this took some months as the routine and volunteer needed to become familiar.

“Mum likes to rehearse and is enjoying her sessions. She really responds to helping improve performance skills. It is physically and mentally demanding for her now but hopefully it’s a very largely good tiredness. Mum’s MS with its extra consequences although pretty stable has its good days and bad days. Fiona’s visits have been a positive reminder of her talents and passion.”

Working with J there are special considerations due to her inconsistent mobility. The volunteer needed to be able to understand her boundaries in terms of what she could and couldn’t manage and work around these. The volunteer reports after each session regarding the learning achieved, health and wellbeing of J and any challenges faced. This enables the domiciliary coordinator to ensure that appropriate support is offered and the family informed of any problems.

This is an ongoing very positive partnership with both the volunteer and learner developing and growing in their skill and passion for music together.

Tutor Perspective: Clare Miles

Clare is a domiciliary care co-ordinator in the community with Learning for the Fourth Age who is sharing some anonymised life long learning case studies. As well as developing and maintaining basic literacies, these stories demonstrate the high therapeutic and practical value of drawing on sophisticated, creative applied literacies skills acquired over the life course to maintain quality of life while in supported living.


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