Established in late 2016, Canberra’s first choir for people experiencing dementia now has 60 members. The group is called The Alchemy Chorus and was initiated by Alzheimer’s Australia, in collaboration with conductor Brian Triglone.
“We are using the arts instead of anti-psychotic medication,” Heather Clarke, Alzheimer’s Australia ACT, told the ABC. “When people are unsettled or if they’re agitated, we are not giving them an anti-psychotic. What we are doing is we are putting on their favourite tune and that is producing a decreased agitation and people are starting to settle.”
Both people with dementia and their carers participate. Mr Triglone said the choir aims to be “inclusive”. He added, “It’s been very, very important for the carers and I hadn’t seen that coming.”
Also key to success is that the choir works towards performances. “You can go and have a singalong any old time,” said Mr Triglone. “But to feel that you are doing something that has got a purpose is much more meaningful.”
The Alchemy Chorus is just of many music-related initiatives helping people with dementia across Australia. In August 2016, we reported on ‘Music and Memory’, a ground-breaking program rolled out in 21 acute health care centres in New South Wales. Developed in the US, it helps people experiencing dementia to create their own play lists and has been shown to reduce anxiety and depression, decrease dependence on anti-psychotic medication and increase quality of life.
Meanwhile, in December 2013, the Alzheimer’s Australia Dementia Research Foundation reported on a study conducted by Associate Professor Jane Flinn from George Mason University, US, and presented at the recent Society of Neuroscience Conference, San Diego. Over four months, 45 people aged 70-99 with dementia participated in singing sessions three times a week. Most experienced an improvement in cognitive tests, a greater sense of satisfaction with life and an increased sense of well-being.