JD and Melbourne Sings (1024x683) (2)

Community choirs hosted within aged care are opening facilities up to the broader community and improving resident health and wellbeing.

Since 2009, charity Creativity Australia has been helping to establish inclusive community choirs to bring together people of all ages and backgrounds.

Of the 13 With One Voice choirs now operating across Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland, two are hosted by aged care facilities. The Altona Meadows choir operates out of Benetas St George, and three Royal Freemasons facilities recently united to form a choir that operates out of Royal Freemasons Centennial Lodge.

Creativity Australia founder and chair Tania de Jong told Australian Ageing Agenda that one benefit of hosting community choirs within the aged care setting was that it broke down stereotypes of facilities as institutions.

“Other people in the community see that this is a home just like anyone’s home, and it’s friendly place,” she said.

Further, the choirs can help to combat social isolation for residents, especially those who may not have strong family connections.

“Bringing together many generations and many different faiths and backgrounds is very energising. You start to realise that you’re part of this very diverse human family and that we’re not alone,” said Ms de Jong.

Ms de Jong said that singing was like a “wonder drug” for people of all ages, but particularly good for older people or those with dementia, as various research has shown it can build new neural pathways and improve memory, language and concentration. She said:

“People are able to remember the words of songs even if they can’t remember your name… We also work with a lot of people who have had strokes to recover, and often it is music and singing that will help them to recover their language.”

Each choir meets weekly and is led by a professional conductor, after which there is a shared supper. Choirs also put on regular public performances, something Ms de Jong said give people a great sense of pride and teamwork.

“It’s been an amazing response. It’s given so much more confidence to the people – they have greater self-esteem, a lot of them are feel a lot happier, it’s a weekly event that they look forward to,” she said.

For Ms de Jong, one powerful example of the impact of the With One Voice choirs was that of a Benetas resident who was a member of the Altona Meadows choir and had recently passed away. Before he died, he requested that the Altona Meadows choir perform at his funeral, and that he be buried in his choir t-shirt.

Charity Australia also runs a “wish list” program and at each choir rehearsal, members have the opportunity to make and grant wishes for each other. These can be simple things, such a wish for help setting with setting up an email account, or help learning English. Ms de Jong said over 500 wishes were granted last year through the With One Voice program.

The benefits of the With One Voice choirs for participants has been evaluated by researchers from Swinburne University, with 98 per cent reporting they experienced less stress, 91 per cent stating they had improved social bonds and 66 per cent that they felt less depressed.

“If you can help one isolated person to feel empowered and to find their creative voice, even at a later stage in life – that is an incredible achievement,” said Ms de Jong.

Members of the With One Voice Altona Meadows choir performing for Creativity Australia’s Sing For Good online video challenge:

More information on the With One Voice choirs is available here.

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