Melody Memory Project began as a programme initiated by Alzheimer Indonesia Nederland (ALZI Ned) to spread dementia awareness amongst the elderly community in Bali through Gamelan, a traditional music ensemble, practice. Over time, it has evolved into a sustainable programme with private-public-community partnership at its heart, being met with overwhelming enthusiasm and support from both participants and local government officials alike.
As previously mentioned, the occasion through which increased dementia awareness is being built is practice sessions of the Gamelan, a traditional music ensemble which holds great cultural significance in Bali, and particularly Pinda village where this project is being held. Not only is playing the instruments considered a leisurely activity, but it is also widely regarded as a religious act. However, there seems to be a lack of available opportunities for retired musicians/gamelan players to engage in Gamelan practice. Thus, this Melody Memory Project, also referred to as MMP, gave these retired elderly the opportunity to engage in an activity which is enjoyable, socially interactive, and yet can also enhance cognitive function.
MMP was officially kicked off on Indonesia’s National Elderly Day (HLUN) 2021. Though there were only 30 participants (ages 58-77 yo) officially registered in the programme, many other village elderly showed up during practice sessions and health screenings, making each occasion even more lively. The plan was for there to be a weekly gamelan practice conducted at the Pinda village community centre, in Gianyar, Bali. Each session would be preceded with dementia awareness session (e.g. sharing the 10 early signs of Alzheimer’s, brain gym) by ALZI Ned volunteers. There would be health screenings once every two weeks (i.e. blood pressure/ blood sugar check, hearing problem) and a cognitive assessment would be conducted twice (at the beginning and end of the programme) using the Mini Mental State Examination (MMSE).
Of course, this is what we at ALZI Ned planned would happen. MMP faced many unanticipated hurdles and roadblocks in the form of regional lockdowns and PPKM measures (restrictions imposed during the pandemic by the government) which meant practice sessions were not allowed to occur. Regardless, these setbacks did little to dampen the spirits of the elderly, who enthusiastically returned to practice when these restrictions were finally lifted. Ten practice sessions (each for 2 hrs), 6 health screenings (in collaboration with ALZI Ned, ALZI Bali, and local ‘puskesmas’ public health centre volunteers) and 3 performances (in commemoration of World Alzheimer Month and HLUN) were conducted in cooperation with the local government authorities.
All of these occasions provided opportunities for us to not only reach the elderly who participated, but also to raise awareness amongst the village officials and other village residents who came to witness the performances/take part in the health screenings, as well as conduct risk reduction brain gym activities. MMP also witnessed intergenerational collaboration when the youth were tasked to perform traditional Balinese dances whilst the elderly played the Gamelan. Overall, the success of this programme can be entirely attributed to the community partnership which took place. Between local village officials, volunteers from the public health centre, the village elderly and youth, as well as the local ‘sanggar’ dance group, MMP has enabled strong collaboration amongst these community members. As such, MMP has evolved from being facilitated by ALZI Ned to something that has officially been adopted into the village agenda. Further continuity of this now sustainable programme will be supported by the government, and local village officials have also pledged their commitment to providing a place for dementia screenings to be conducted twice a year.
Due to the success of MMP in Bali, ALZI Ned is in the process of adopting this programme in other regions of Indonesia. Though the programme in Bali cannot be entirely replicated as different elderly communities in Indonesia have certain cultural differences which require varying approaches. At present, we have kick started MMP in Yogyakarta in collaboration with the local arts foundation and Gadjah Mada University. So don’t forget to look out for future updates and performances from the elderly of Melody Memory Project! See you in Jogja!