Australia

'It's amazing to see': Dementia choir benefits from the healing power of music

A group of Australians living with dementia, along with their carers, are raising their voices in song in a weekly program run by two music therapists.

Each week, members of the Austin Health Musical Memories Choir have a good singalong in a federally funded pilot program run by music therapists, Doctors Jeanette Tamplin and Imogen Clark from the University of Melbourne.

Doctor Clark said music is used to help stimulate memories and emotions.

"The parts of the brain that we connect with memory and emotion are very active still in people right into the very late stages of dementia. And so we think that's why people can still engage in music right into those late stages.

"So we have seen a lot of people who are basically unable to communicate at all anymore and, suddenly, you'll play music and they'll start singing. It's quite amazing to see," she said.

The choir started in April last year to see how singing groups affect the relationships of people with dementia and their carers.

The choir is a weekly highlight for Croatian born couple, Ivan and Vera.

Eighty-year-old Ivan has been living with dementia for several years.

Vera and Ivan interview
Vera and Ivan interview

Co-facilitator, Doctor Jeanette Tamplin said the weekly singing seems to have had added benefits with choir members saying they feel a real sense of engagement and belonging.

Jeanette Tamplin interview
Jeanette Tamplin interview

More dementia awareness needed 

A survey released by Alzheimer's Australia highlights the need for these sorts of programs in Australia because the majority of people with dementia say they feel lonely and socially disconnected.

The 'Dementia and the Impact of Stigma Report' surveyed 1,457 people across Australia, including people with dementia, carers and the general public.

Acting Chief Executive of Alzheimer's Australia Victoria, Leanne Wenig told SBS World News the findings show there is widespread frustration.

"Ninety-four per cent of people with dementia and, also, 60 per cent of their carers told us through the survey that they've had experiences of feeling embarrassed. And, really this is because the general population don't know a great deal about dementia," she said.

Ms Wenig said not all the survey findings were negative with one in two members of the population saying they are frustrated that they don't know more about dementia.

Leanne Wenig interview
Leanne Wenig interview

For more information and support, call the National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500 or online at www.fightdementia.org.