Written by Fiona van Heerden – Occupational Therapist © dementiacareinternational
The Maurice Zeffert Choir was a project undertaken by researchers at The University of Western Australia and Curtin University, in collaboration with Maurice Zeffert Home and was funded by Healthway, Wicking Trust and Silver Chain.
This project aimed to examine how participation in a group-singing program influenced the health and wellbeing of older people with early stage dementia. The project looked at the health and wellbeing of the volunteers who assisted participants, assisting residents to choir, hand out name badges and song books, and being available for any of their needs while singing.
The participants of the choir were over 70 years of age, had early stage dementia, were able to read and understand basic English, and were well enough to attend a two hour session.
The choir started with a 6-week preliminary pilot study. We started on a Thursday afternoon for six consecutive weeks. Prior to the commencement of the choir, the residents and volunteers were assessed on their wellbeing and cognitive ability by the project coordinator and the Occupational Therapists at Maurice Zeffert. Some of the sessions were also photographed and video recorded and further assessments were conducted after the pilot. We started the choir with 19 residents and 7 volunteers.
Some of the highlights of our sessions were:
- One female resident had tears in her eyes when singing a Yiddish song. She expressed how it was a Yiddish Lullaby and had been sung by her mother to her 100 years ago.
- A gentleman asked if the music therapist was Jewish and expressed with amazement that she could sing the songs so well and give so much love.
- On entering one resident’s room to take her to choir, she was usually fast asleep on her bed. A tap on the shoulder with the song, ‘I’m singing in the rain’ got her up in a flash, singing along all the way to the hall.
- Everyone always remarked that when a new song was introduced one resident would always know the words. He always smiled with great pride that he was, ‘so clever’.
- One resident who attended a concert for the first time went up to the singing coordinator and explained that it was her first time at the choir and she was so delighted to be part of the the session.
We decided to plan our own concert, which was held on 7 December, 2009. The residents’ families as well as the staff and residents at the Maurice Zeffert were invited and the concert was our culmination of the year’s work. It went off very well with some of the highlights being three residents singing with beaming smiles on their faces with having their children and grandchildren attending. One resident kept saying, ‘That’s my daughter’ and waving her arms. A gentleman in the choir sang with great gusto and enjoyed receiving his certificate and mug. Another resident who was spectating was pleased to have both her daughters sitting on either side of her.
Our choir consisted of 23 residents and 8 volunteers.
Study conducted by Professor Jane Davidson, University of Western Australia