Erica Phare-Bergh, right, directs the Voices in Motion choir at St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Saanich. Submitted

Choir study shows people with dementia can learn new songs

Volunteers need for Alzheimer’s helpline, World Alzheimer’s Day is Sept. 21

Preliminary results from a local study show that music can aid the learning of new memories for people suffering from dementia.

The results are from the locally-led Voices in Motion choir, a research project led by a group of University of Victoria professors.

The choir mixes high school students in a choir with locals in the early or intermediate stages of Alzheimer’s disease, and their caregivers, to study effect of singing and socialization on those with dementia.

Choir leader Erica Phare-Berg used songs that required new learning and the formation of new memories, which stimulated some key findings for the study.

Stuart MacDonald is an associate professor of psychology and a lead on the study, and he drew up some preliminary results ahead of World Alzheimer’s Day on Friday.

“Notably, despite the damage to regions of the brain … that are central to the formation of new memories, even those with Alzheimer’s’s disease in our study were quite adept at engaging in singing these pieces, as well as committing some of this material to memory,” MacDonald wrote.

The report also indicated that despite the known distress that comes with caregiving for a loved one with dementia, the anecdotal and focus group discussions with caregivers showed the choir helped mitigate those feelings of stress, anxiety and isolation.

In fact, across the four-month period that the choir practised, caregivers exhibited a significant reduction in depressive symptoms, the report said.

The choir will hold a small concert on Friday at a lecture by MacDonald and Andre Smith, who is also involved in the study, to celebrate World Alzheimer’s Day. The lecture is 3 to 4:30 p.m. at Gordon Head Recreation Centre, sponsored by UVic, Island Health and the Alzheimer’s Society of B.C.

The Voices in Motion choir is also starting a new session with four different choirs being launched, and is in search of participants, both caregivers and people with early onset dementia.

“We have two community-based choirs starting on Sept. 26 and Sept. 27 and will accept new members until Oct. 17, said study lead Debra Sheets said.

There are two others, one in residential care at Mt. St. Mary Hospital and the ‘Care Choir’ starting with healthcare professionals medical doctors, registered nurses, occupational therapists, phsyiotherapists, home health aides, etc.

Interested parties can email Sheets at

Victoria dementia helpline seeks volunteers

The number of calls to the First Link Dementia Helpline has risen dramatically in recent years, and so has the need for volunteers to answer those calls, said spokesperson Natalie North of the Alzheimer Society of B.C.

Through it all, the type of calls has remained the same. Most are from caregivers of people living with dementia who need to know who to call and where to turn. Otherwise its people who haven’t reached out and now find themselves in a crisis.

“Caregivers, however, can’t and shouldn’t have to do this on their own,” said Julie Cameron, a First Link Dementia Helpline coordinator. “Being able to support both caregivers and people living with a diagnosis on the Helpline has been a humbling and incredibly rewarding experience for me.”

The new Victoria Resource Centre is located in Saanich and is in need of volunteers.

Backgrounds in first response, social work, counselling, gerontology or health care are all assets, but not mandatory, as an extensive training program is provided.

Volunteers are expected to contribute 3.5 hours a week on the lines, with a minimum commitment of one year or 150 hours at the centre.

To find out how to become a Dementia Helpline volunteer, call Caroline Herbert, Provincial Coordinator, First Link Dementia Helpline at 778-746-2021 or email To access the First Link Dementia Helpline, call 1-800-936-6033.

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