The Voices in Motion choir is led by Erica Phare-Bergh on Sunday. (Sophie Heizer/News Staff)

Saanich choir Christmas concert gives a voice to dementia sufferers

The benefits of singing together are numerous

A local choir put on a winter concert on Sunday afternoon to help de-stigmatize dementia and improve the health of participants with Alzheimer’s or dementia and the people who care for them through song.

READ MORE: New choir strikes a chord for people with dementia

Voices in Motion is a choir for adults with memory loss, their caregivers, friends, and students. The choir began in September 2017 as a research project undertaken by the nursing, psychology, sociology and music departments at the University of Victoria to study how participating in a choir can help those with dementia and the people who care for them.

Voices in Motion choir director Erica Phare-Bergh said leading the choir has been the most amazing gift. “I did not expect this to be such an incredible journey. I’m moved by the courage of people as they face this journey,” Phare-Bergh said.

Phare-Bergh said the researchers at UVic have found that stigma has gone down, depression has gone down, cortisol levels have been going up in people because they’ve been singing, and caregiver stress has gone down. “It’s not that it lessened their situation, but it helped them reframe what is happening and gives them an option to do something that’s really meaningful,” she said.

Phare-Bergh said she demands a lot of her choir. “One of the most fun things to do is to see that there is actually a shift as a group in the technical aspects of singing too because that means that there’s growth as well. It’s not like somebody is always making the same mistake every time – they don’t.”

Wendy Casey (middle) travels to Saanich from Mill Bay with her mother every week to participate in the Voices in Motion choir. (Sophie Heizer/News Staff)

Choir member, and caregiver for her mother who has dementia, Wendy Casey said she has seen these benefits for her mother first-hand. She said her mom has no short-term memory because of the disease, but she has been making some new memories with the choir, something Casey said isn’t supposed to happen for people with dementia.

Casey said her mother has been able to recognize Phare-Bergh and remember the words to songs she learned in the choir even though she can’t remember Casey’s cousin who she has known for years. “I would say that it’s the singing that’s doing it because she doesn’t recognize other people,” Casey said.

“The frontal lobe is what’s normally affected in Alzheimer’s and that’s the part that so much of our life and our memories draw on,” said Phare-Bergh. “But when you sing together as a choir what they’ve noticed in the research they did at UVic is that it draws on all the other parts of the brain and that kind of comes to the rescue of the frontal lobe.”

“I wish we were doing more testing because my mom is a kick-ass scrabble player,” Casey said. “She’s slowly losing it, but I’d really like to have seen her scrabble game before and at the end of this.”

Phare-Bergh said there will be more research conducted with the choir, starting in January 2020.

READ MORE: Choir study shows people with dementia can learn new songs

sophie.heizer@saanichnews.com


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