When Gillian Machaffie’s mother-in-law was diagnosed with dementia, the former nursery owner struck on an innovative way to bring her some relief.

Now Gillian is bringing music to the ears of residents in nursing homes and dementia wards across the city via headphones and dressing up props.

Gillian said: “We noticed when we held a silent disco at my mother-in-law’s care home she got up to dance and sing and it was a distraction from her anxious thoughts and confusion. She becomes more relaxed and gets swept up in the experience. “

She set up her silent disco company Ya Dancer in 2017 after organising one for her own 50th birthday. Laden with 30 sets of headphones she decided to branch out into business and organises events for weddings, parties and street parades as well as offering respite to older people, some living with dementia.


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She now runs five sessions in hospitals and social care settings across the city and has been blown away by the positive feedback.

She said: “Music switches on the pathways in the brain that aren’t otherwise accessible. For a person with dementia who is confused and anxious studies show that music will bring them back to a place of normality.”

Gillian hand picks music for the 90 minute sessions or works with families to create personal playlists for their loved ones.

She said: “Somebody’s mum might have a special favourite or a special requests that families or residents will pick themselves.”

Around 20 songs are played during a session with Elvis and The Beatles hits, as well as Scottish folk songs, regularly hitting the high notes.

Watching the reactions is an emotional experience for Gillian: “People put the music on and their faces light up, they’re clapping their hands and singing. So for me watching it, it’s really enjoyable.

“What gets me the most is watching families cry as they watch their lost loved ones return to their former selves through dancing, singing and feeling really happy.

“One couple that were both in the home were singing to each other for an hour and a half. It was very heartwarming.”


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Watching the experience “bring people back to life even just for a short while” and see them enjoy a “surge of enjoyment” is an honour for Gillian.

She said: “They’re waving their hands and singing and you can see their eyes twinkling again. It might be one of the only times they have strong memories come through. With the headphones on they’re immersed in the music and there’s no distractions. The music taps into a different part of their brains and the feel good factor is really high”

Rosemary Walker, who runs David Cargill House where Gillian holds discos, said: “We noticed that people who don’t normally get involved participate because it’s so fun.

“Residents have their own playlists and this brings lots of evocative memories and they feel special. Staff love it too.”