As the number of people living with dementia in Australia continues to rise and there is no cure in sight, people with dementia and those recovering from stroke are turning to singing therapy for help.
The latest data from Dementia Australia indicates more than 425,000 people live with it and an estimated 250 Australians develop dementia every day.
A study is looking at the possible benefits of group singing for those living with dementia and their carers.
Robyn Ryan set up a singing group in Port Macquarie on the New South Wales mid-north coast for a group of able-bodied people, some of whom are recovering from strokes and have memory problems.
“The participants learn a song [and] they get to memorise the words. Once a song is well-known we then add activities such as body percussion,” Ms Ryan said.
“The purpose is to get them to really think, same as you would do a crossword or sudoku … so it really is quite a complex activity.”
Pamela and Geoffrey Jackson have been participating in a singing group in Port Macquarie to help with Geoffrey’s stroke rehabilitation. (ABC News: Carla Mascarenhas )
Pamela Jackson attends with her husband Geoffrey, who is recovering from a stroke.
“We come thinking how are we going to cope with all the new songs we have to do, particularly because we haven’t always done the practice,” Ms Jackson said.
“But when we are here we are totally engrossed, the time goes quickly and we feel highly energised by the time it’s over.”
Mr Jackson said he really struggled after his stroke, but the group had been “wonderful” for his recovery.
“You think you have conversations under control and then you become stuck,” he said.
“I find now I am actually starting to burst into song.”
Canberra is also home to a dementia-friendly choir called The Alchemy Chorus. It was jointly created by conductor Brian Triglone and the charity Alzheimer’s Australia late last year.
Singing stimulates memories
Clinical neuropsychologist Aimee Baird from Macquarie University works with people with dementia and who have had strokes.
Dr Baird said singing popular songs triggered people’s memories.
“Singing songs from people’s youth, a period of time called the ‘reminiscence bump’, when we have a peak of personal memories formed [when we are] aged 10–30 years, has been shown to be most effective at stimulating memories,” she said.
Dr Baird said singing did not just trigger memories, but people with memory problems could also learn new songs.
“There is evidence that people with dementia can learn new songs and in my research on people involved in a Parkinson’s singing group, many said that they enjoyed that challenge of stimulating their memories in learning new songs,” she said.
Dr Baird said singing had a range of positive effects for people with neurological disorders such as dementia or stroke, including improved mood, confidence, motivation, communication, and social interaction.