A touching 12-minute film about a St. John’s Wood synagogue’s efforts to help those with early-onset dementia has won a Grand Jury Prize in the United States.

‘Memory Songs’ by filmmaker Lucy Kaye, covering the work of Liberal Jewish Synagogue volunteers, scooped the award at the prestigious Rhode Island Film Festival, in a category recognising films that “reflect the Jewish experience”.

“I was so moved by these elderly people, most in their 80’s and 90’s, who have lived such diverse and rich lives,” she said this week.

“Some survived the Holocaust, others had been professional footballers, some were artists; in spite of their illness, all carry that spark of life within them. They welcomed me into their homes, told me their life stories and talked of the trials and tribulations of living with or caring for someone with dementia.”

Screenshot from 'Memory Songs'

Screenshot from ‘Memory Songs’

The video shows how “when your memory fades, your grip on reality becomes fragile and the sense of self slowly slips away,” but music and song – led by volunteers – can help shul users “reconnect with themselves”.

Group leader Judith Silver tailors her Singing for the Mind group to meet everyone’s needs, while a visiting Dementia Specialist offers counselling and support to people with dementia and their carers.

“Because of the nature of dementia, often people who might have found it hard to hold a conversation could still remember all the words to most of the songs,” says Kaye. “In fact, it was sometimes very hard to tell who within the circle was suffering with dementia and who was not!”